The Green Mile

By: Toni McQuilken

When it comes to newspaper production, there are quite a few factors to consider when choosing the right materials-from the inks to the paper to the chemicals, cost is always a main concern, but in recent years, environmental impact has played a role in that decision as well.    

There are two areas where “green” can make a huge difference in the carbon footprint of a newspaper printer—the inks and the plate processing. Both were traditionally created with chemicals that were harsh, for both the people using them and the environment. And when alternatives first hit the market, there was a trade off-environmentally friendly versus either higher cost or lower quality, or both. Today’s products, however, have come a long way.    

“In the case of standard polymer plate, image quality of the plate is the same (on a violet chemfree plate),” said Don Easley, regional manager, Newspaper Segment, North America, Agfa Graphics. “The transition is smooth, and no extensive operator training is required. N94-VCF looks and performs the same on press as any other metal offset plate. Advanced electrochemical graining and anodizing yield the reliability and robustness needed on a newspaper press and the durability required to produce long press runs. N94-VCF combines fast, accurate and wide-latitude plate exposure with chemistry-free processing, while ensuring predictable, consistent performance on press.”    

Agfa, Easley noted, has a wide range of products that are considered green, but the N94-VCF plate is one of the most important for the company. “This plate was designed with the objective to be a green product,” he noted. “The coating was completely redesigned, and is gum processable. This means that the plate is gummed with a pH neutral gum (rather than the usual high pH developers). This VCF (violet chemfree) technology has following advantages: 30 percent less consumption of gum (versus developer), 30 percent longer bath life and less maintenance.”    

The plates, Easley said, can hold impressions for up to 200,000 impressions, and in addition to the neutral ph gum, it is also chemistry-free, requiring no developer or replenisher.    

The other major area a printer can “go green” is with the inks. And INX is one of the manufacturers pushing a solution that hits both the quality and cost points, as well as being better for the environment.    

“The main benefits for a printer replacing conventional inks with a green product such as the INX EcoTech line, would be twofold,” noted Len Stresinshe, Research and Development product manager, INX International Ink Co. “With the reduction of VOC content in the pressroom, they would also be running products that are less harmful to the environment. With the EcoTech sheetfed line, the higher solids content resulting from low VOC levels may contribute to harder drying on non-absorbent types of substrates. The EcoTech heatset inks can contribute to reduced energy costs in many cases due to their lower VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) level that would result in lower dryer temperatures on the press to set and dry the ink.”    

INX focused on two areas when looking to make its ink line meet the environmental demands.    

“The EcoTech series of inks are formulated to have low VOC levels, and they contain a high percentage of ink ingredients derived from Bio-Renewable or sustainable resources,” said Stresinshe. “In typical ink formulas, the VOC content is composed of hydrocarbon based solvents which are distilled from petroleum based materials. In addition to the petroleum hydrocarbon solvents, typical ink formulas may also contain hard resins that are derived from petroleum based feed stocks. With EcoTech inks, these solvents are replaced with vegetable oils and vegetable based esters. Some of the most common types of vegetable oils used to replace hydrocarbon solvents are soy oil and linseed oil.”    

Stresinshe went on to note that on the heatset ink side, while the process requires there be some hydrocarbon-based solvent, they were able to reduce VOC levels from a typical 35-45 percent to less than 30 percent.    

Both Stresinshe and Easley both stressed that, with today’s products, printers will see no quality difference, eliminating that barrier to entry.    

There are more than 520 million newspapers produced worldwide every day, and while the run lengths might be getting shorter, the need to find ways to reduce the environmental impact while maximizing profits remains high on the priority list. “Quality newspapers are still being produced, albeit in smaller numbers,” said Jim Wegemer, director of national accounts, INX International Ink Co.    

And while many of those newspapers are looking at mixing in alternative delivery methods to help achieve that, finding ways to be more economical and environmentally friendly are just as important to the bottom line. Solutions like the plates from Agfa and the inks from INX offer newspaper printers a choice that doesn’t require them to trade off on quality or costs, making them, increasingly, the choice many of those printers can’t afford not to make.


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