Sustainable Flexography: A Guide to Help You Get Started

By Boris Kelsey - 2016-11-24

The definition of sustainability is to meet the needs of now without compromising the needs of the future. To be sustainable, one has to think about the impacts on people, the planet, and profit. Flexographic printing has been working at being sustainable for almost 20 years. Improved printing systems, techniques, and technologies have reduced waste and air pollution, saved money, increased operating efficiency, and improved health and safety. Being sustainable when it comes to printing means more than just appearing “green.”

Being sustainable involves a commitment to doing business differently, in ways that will meet the needs of customers, while making sure that resources will be available in the future. It involves being good stewards of the environment, promoting the recycling of natural resources, sustainable use, and conservation of resources. Paper products should be made responsibly, and using presses that require less energy and produce fewer VOCs than alternatives. Finally, it involves using storage methods that don’t warp, and thus ruin, laminating sleeves.

Benefits of Pursuing Sustainability

There are any number of reasons to pursue sustainability. Here are just a few:

  • reach new customers and increase your competitive advantage;
  • build long-term business success and viability;
  • increase operational efficiency;
  • reduce costs and waste;
  • strengthen and protect reputation and brand;
  • build public trust; and
  • respond to regulatory constraints.

Companies of all sizes can engage in sustainability efforts. If you want more ideas on pursuing sustainability with your business, check out Network for Business Sustainability for more insights.

Plant Modifications

Selling more environmentally sustainable products not only saves money, it also offers a competitive advantage when environmentally conscious consumers decide to shop ethically. Several measures can be done to reduce the impact of a business.

How to reduce environmental impact of facilities:

  • reduce the use of chemicals or find alternative products that are less harmful;
  • use less water, or reuse water when possible;
  • collect and use rainwater where possible;
  • install skylights to bring in natural sunlight;
  • bring in foliage plants to purify indoor air;
  • minimize the air space inside that needs to be heated; install solar panels

Flexography and Sustainability

Flexography is the process used to print packaging materials like milk cartons, paper bags, folding cartons, adhesive tapes, wrappers, envelopes, newspapers, disposable cups, and more. In the usual printing sequence, the substrate, or material that is to be printed, is fed into the press off of a roll. It is then pulled through different print units, with each unit printing a single colour. Different shading and tones are achieved overlaying four basic shades of ink. These four shades are cyan, yellow, black, and magenta. If you want to learn more about the basics of flexography, you may be able to find more research available on the FlexStor website.

Flexographic Ink

There are three main types of ink: UV curable, solvent, and water-based. The substrate type, or printing surface, dictates what ink must be used. Each type of ink has its own advantage and disadvantages.

Historically, aniline dye ink was used. Its highly toxic nature ended with it being banned for use in food packaging. It has been replaced with an aniline dye for polyamide resins that helps prevent bleeding and frequent staining caused by the previous type of aniline dyes.

Solvent-based inks were developed after aniline dye inks. These solvent inks were safe for for packaging but bad for the environment. In the 1980s more environmental laws came into effect, which led to the development of water-based inks. Most printers have since been adapted to water-based inks, which are a lot more environmentally friendly. Printers can also recycle ink for later use.

UV curable inks take less energy and also produce less waste. The quality of ink is also much higher than the others. In the U.S., the EPA has worked with the flexographic industry to promote uv curable ink systems and water-based inks to aid in environmental safety and to help printers use less ink, thus saving money.


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