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  • Does your project need to be this size or can it be smaller? A reduced format could save paper, ink, water, carbon emissions in distribution and it may even save money on postage.

  • Can you use lighter paper for your job? Avoid specifying heavier paper than is necessary. It may seem obvious, but 200gsm paper uses double the amount of wood fibre as 100gsm paper.

  • Talk to your printer to check paper size availability and press size before designing your product. Many materials are available in a limited range of sizes and so simply shaving off a few millimetres may dramatically reduce waste.

  • The most waste and cost-effective formats are A sizes, as all materials and printing presses are based around these.

  • If your product is likely to be around for some time, design it to be updateable.

  • Window envelopes cannot currently be recycled in the UK. Unless the windows have been cut/torn out, the envelopes will be removed from the waste paper when it is sorted. However, cellulose film for window envelopes is now available and although this is not recyclable, at least it will biodegrade in landfills.

  • Don’t print more copies than you need just because it’s not going to cost much more.

  • Make sure that the job has been proofed extremely carefully. This reduces the risk of a re-print or a job being pulled off the press halfway through.

  • Keeping ink coverage to a minimum reduces the amount of environmentally damaging ink used and makes your product easier to recycle.



Think about the timings, and try to plan as far in advance as possible:


  • Book time with your printer, and try to get quantities and paper agreed well in advance to stop emergency transport of materials, especially if buying special order recycled paper.

  • Plan well for grouped, low cost deliveries.





The binding you choose can make your product pretty toxic and can also affect the recyclability of your design.


The most environmentally friendly method is wire stitching as staples can be easily removed during the recycling process and then recycled themselves. Singer sewing is not as good due to the cotton thread being more difficult to remove. The same goes for comb and wire-o bindings.


Glue is really bad news for recycling and can be pretty toxic, usually containing VOC-releasing solvents (see glossary).






Foil blocking

These are polyester film coatings, many containing toxic chemicals and heavy metals. Foil blocking may make your product unrecyclable as it doesn't break down in the de-inking process.



This can render a product unrecyclable and un-biodegradable and the lamination process emits high levels of VOCs. A recent study states that single sided lamination is recyclable though, providing it is not laminated with wax or latex. There are cellulose (wood-based) alternatives but these can be difficult to remove in the recycling process, so you might want to avoid lamination if your product is likely to have a short shelf life.


UV varnishes

UV varnishes are mineral-oil based, they contain solvents, the process uses a lot of energy, and as if that wasn’t enough, they cause problems for the recycling process. If you still want to use a varnish, go for aqueous (water based) coatings instead. They come in matt and gloss finishes – the gloss is pretty shiny although not as shiny as UV varnish.


Vegetable oil based inks

Most sheet-fed inks are now vegetable-oil instead of petroleum-oil based (with the exception of fluorescents and most metallics), typically containing three parts linseed to one part soya oil. By using vegetable-oil based inks you're reducing worker and environmental health hazards and avoiding use of a non-renewable resource.


However, there has been much controversy surrounding the huge expansion of the worldwide soya industry, so this is not a black and white issue. Read more


Heatset web inks still contain 30-35% mineral (petroleum) oil, emitting low levels of VOCs as they dry and can result in environmental and worker health hazards. Coldset web inks also contain a small amount of mineral oil.


Some inks go one step further by reducing the levels of environmentally damaging drying catalysts such as cobalt. However, this means that they dry more slowly than conventional inks.


Fluorescent colours

Unfortunately these are not available as vegetable-oil based inks.



Metallics have traditionally only been available as petroleum based inks, but a vegetable-oil version has just come onto the market so ask your printer if they're using these yet.




Avoid lamination

Ask for vegetable-oil based inks

Make good use of the whole print sheet

Try using a lighter paper

Talk to your printer early on

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