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Fabric, Board, Vinyl—Oh My!

Sustainable Media Widens its Presence

By Melissa Donovan

Until recently, the economy stunted the sustainability movement. Swayed by price, print service providers (PSPs) looking to save on material costs sacrificed their eco-conscious mindsets. Smart manufacturers either lowered price points or entered the market with competitive pricing equal to their non-“green” competitors.

As the economy rebounds, these products and newer ones are beginning to rise in demand. Textiles are considered one of the most eco-friendly materials. However, rigid boards and vinyl films are also part of the mix.

The Original Eco
For an eco-conscious customer, fabric is the answer. Due to its light weight, a finished textile graphic incurs very low shipping and handling costs.

For example, Cooley Group added EnviroFlex to the company’s digital lines, with fabrics as light as 3.5 ounces. “We made our new lightweight flex more eco-friendly than traditional flex. It uses up to 50 percent fewer raw materials, resulting in a significant carbon footprint reduction,” cites Bryan Rose, VP/business manager, Cooley.

The pliability of fabric allows it to be rolled, which prevents damage, thus making it reusable. Reusability is a large part of sustainable media—whether it is creating fabric from post-consumer materials or recycling the fabric after use.

Pacific Coast Fabrics, Inc.’s (PCF) Premium Fabrics for digital printing consist of recyclable polyester yarn, engineered to require less ink, lower temperatures for heat setting, and no post washing. The fabrics are free of harmful substances and most are certified to Oeko-Tex Standard 100.

Oeko-Tex Standard is a globally uniform testing and certification system that looks for harmful substances prohibited or regulated by law and chemicals known to be detrimental to health. Each pre-printed fabric tested by Oeko-Tex is placed into one of four categories, based on its usage—baby, direct contact with skin, no direct contact to skin, and decoration material. The level of hazardous substances determines whether it is approved for a specific category.

Another organization regulating the lifecycle of eco-friendly fabric is the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Dickson Coatings USA’s EverGreen fabrics’ environmental advantages are validated by ISO 14040 to 14044.

“This assessment analyzes the impact of EverGreen fabrics throughout their lifecycle, from design to destruction, including manufacturing, distribution, and use,” explains Dean Comstock, territory sales manager, Dickson Coatings. The EverGreen line consists of polyester yarns and water-based coatings. They are free of PVCs, phthalates, formaldehyde, phosphate, and glycol-ether.

Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Inc. offers two styles of fabric made from 100 percent recycled polyester. Their source is clear, plastic drink bottles. The line, referred to as Weaves of Green, includes two styles—Act II and RePlay2.

The percentage of post-consumer materials is of some concern. “Part of Fisher Textiles Inc.’s Enviro-Tex fabrics are made from recycled post-consumer and post-industrial waste. This recycled content is no less than 45 percent of the total product. A minimum of 30 percent recycled content is required for a fabric to be certified as green,” shares James Gay, director of marketing, Fisher Textiles.

Recyclability or biodegradability is an essential textile trait. “People immediately think green when talking about Neschen Americas’ SolvoTex Cotton Premium Light S and Heavy S products. Cotton is a 100 percent renewable resource that has the capability to biodegrade,” adds Andreas DeGroot, senior product manager—inkjet media, Neschen.

DHJ International/Decoprint creates textile coatings. A major eco-friendly selling point, according to Blaise Humphries, product development/marketing manager, DHJ Intl., are coatings with PVC-free resins. “There are no heavy metals or fungicides. All products are low- or formaldehyde-free,” he says. The company plans to have all of its products labeled under Oeko-Tex Standard 100 by the end of 2010.

Currently, all DHJ Intl. media complies with the European Registration, Evaluation, and Authorization of Chemicals standard. In place since 2003, it focuses on enterprises that manufacture or import more than one ton of a chemical substance per year. These companies are required to register in a central database.

Pro-Earth Board
Manufacturers of rigid boards acknowledge the availability of eco-friendly materials. Some companies learn from customer demand, others through partnerships with suppliers. In all instances, it pushes them to adapt and become proactive.

Alcan Composites USA intensified its efforts for a small ecological footprint through its Care & Conserve sustainability initiative. “The program assesses the company’s entire supply chain from raw materials to disposal. Our best practices are focused on reusing/recycling materials and on reducing material consumption/disposal in landfills,” explains Joseph N. Masters, graphic display marketing manager/sustainability manager, Alcan.

A standard for minimum recycled content is currently in place for each of the company’s product lines—Fome-Cor, Sintra, Gator, and Dibond. Also, supply chain directives require that all paper used in paper-faced foamboards be purchased from suppliers participating in either the Sustainable Forestry Initiative or Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC).

While larger companies invest in research, smaller companies also do their part. According to Jeff Stover, president, Artgrafix, the company’s staff started with recycling, which led them to champion using biodegradable boards, films, and water-based adhesives as they became available. Today eco-friendly products such as biodegradable adhesive boards, pouch boards, and liner-free films now comprise a sizable part of Artgrafix’s business.

Other sustainable rigid boards include GreenCore Rigid Print Media (RPM) from Decorative Panels International, Inc. (DPI). It contains wood fiber and agricultural oil. “At DPI we have a long-standing tradition of adhering to responsible forestry management practices,” shares Tim Boerst, director of industrial and international markets, DPI. GreenCore RPM is FSC-certified, formaldehyde-free, emits low volatile organic compounds, and is biodegradable.

Purepanel LLC ’s Purepanel is manufactured from 100 percent post-consumer paper waste. “The initiative was based on consumer interest in using eco-friendly materials with high performance and purity,” adds Robin Curtis, GM, Purepanel.

Hartman’s HartBoard line is produced using an environmentally friendly process, where harmful pollutants aren’t released into the air. In addition, the foam-centered product is a polystyrene-faced board, on both sides, with an extruded center. It is 100 percent recyclable.

“At Palram Amercas, we developed a green program to help identify the products manufactured with a high percentage of post-industrial and/or post-consumer recycled materials,” shares Tim Cronrath, market manager, Palram.

Many vinyls used for the graphic arts carry a large amount of PVC or polyvinyl chloride—a known carcinogen that emits hazardous fumes during the disposal process. Although the official Web site for PVC——claims the medium can be disposed of safely, it is typically not recycled due to cost issues.

In 2005, Ultraflex Systems, Inc. launched BIOflex, a biodegradable PVC sign media. In landfill conditions it attracts microbes that break down the PVC in three years.

Several manufacturers offer vinyls with polyolefin used in place of PVC. According to Jennifer Kigin, marketing operations business manager, 3M Graphics Market Center, polyolefin films use less solvent in the manufacturing process versus other film formulations. 3M printable polyolefin films feature a multi-layer, specially engineered construction made from a non-chlorine chemistry.

Oracal USA recently announced a new, eco-friendly PVC-free film, ORAJET Series 3174 Eco Digital Media. This 3-mil polyolefin film is specially formulated for the toy and food industry.

“Avery Graphics’ Greenline GP films are 100 percent PVC- and phthalate-free, resulting in no halogen-related disposal concerns. The adhesives used in the films are solvent-free,” adds Molly Waters, strategic sales support manager, Avery.

Besides PVC or polyolefin, there are other chemical bases that make vinyl somewhat eco-friendly. Hexis S.A. manufactures several green polypropylene films and polyester laminate. PP80WR, PP880WP, PP060WR, PP060WP, and Laminate PG880 are environmentally friendly because of their low toxic content.

Post-Print Partners
Depending on the type of ink process used, eco-friendly media may become less sustainable post-print. To eliminate or at least monitor these changes, media manufacturers work closely with ink vendors.

There is a current theme throughout the industry, we are all working to be more environmentally conscience, shares DeGroot. Neschen works with print and ink manufacturers to test and qualify products to create a complete solution with less environmental impact.

UV, latex, and water-based inks are traditionally known as green products. Combined with eco-friendly media, they make a truly sustainable solution.

“Latex ink, which is water-based, attracts a following of ecologically responsible graphics manufacturers and customers,” says Kigin.

“Water-based inks do not harm the environment. To keep fabrics green after printing it’s necessary to use water-based inks,” recommends Markus Fortmeier, sales and marketing manager, 3P InkJet Textiles AG.

While vendors partner with hardware manufacturers, some say it doesn’t really matter what ink is used. For example, conVerd, LLC engages with most major equipment manufacturers, but the majority of the company’s products retain their recyclability despite the ink used. “This is due to the evolution of modern de-inking technologies in use throughout the paper recycling industry today,” says Paul Paulette, VP of sustainability, conVerd.

“Purepanel offers partner programs that focus on the development of eco-friendly printing processes and surface applications. Water-based inks are applicable. Latex print or conventional printing methods do not prevent the finished product from being recycled back into the domestic waste stream,” states Curtis.

Recycling Programs
Companies tout their products as recyclable in the normal paper recycling stream. Others develop independent programs, either pre- or post-print.

Aurora Specialty Textiles’ recycling program, Fabrecycle, accepts uncoated 100 percent polyester fabrics, either printed or leftover scraps. “These are placed with other 100 percent polyester scraps and then bailed and sent to a recycle center,” explains Mike Richardson, director of sales/marketing, Aurora Specialty Textiles.

The Cooley REFLEX Recycling Program allows customers to bale material and coordinate with Cooley to have it sent to a designated recycling center, where scrim is separated from the polymer and materials are shredded for use in other applications.

In 2009, DuPont Tyvek partnered with Waste Management, Inc. to expand the recycling capability for Tyvek. The program offers a Tyvek Recycling Kit. “A container code included with the kit allows users to track and measure how much Tyvek is recycled. Larger or customized envelopes are also available,” shares Annette Kim, graphics marketing manager, DuPont.

Fisher Textiles launched the Enviro-Tex Rescue Program, an initiative to recycle fabrics into polyester fiber, which is made into products streamlined back into the marketplace. Customers send Fisher Textiles printed or unprinted material waste.

Growing Interest
Despite the economy, many vendors introduced sustainable media. These products are rising in popularity, proving timing isn’t necessarily everything.

Kim says the interest in green materials is stronger than ever. Last year, the company launched Tyvek Vivia, a high-density polyethylene material that is recyclable.

“There is an interest in eco-friendly media, despite the downturn. Our results continue to increase due to requests for PVC-free textiles,” agrees Humphries.

Vendors are spurred by interest and continue exploring ways to add additional styles to already sustainable lines. Others hope to improve upon existing products. Fisher Textiles’ original eco-friendly textiles were a combination of post-consumer and post-industrial waste, which ranged from 45 to 90 percent of the total product. Products in development are made with 100 percent post-consumer waste.

Cost affects green media. “The economy forced customers to go cheaper, allowing less room for earth friendly products. There is always a turnaround, or at least, a turn. Product demand experiences unpredictable highs and lows,” says Jaime Giannantonio, marketing manager, Ultraflex.

According to Waters, sustainability and eco-friendly products are still emerging trends. As the economy recovers, this focus will pick up momentum. “However, the willingness to pay a premium for greener options varies by customer, end user, and geographic locations,” she admits.

Recognizing the Demand
Price and performance are two of the biggest factors challenging sustainable media’s growth. However, this does not have to be the case. “While most customers initially inquire about durable media that produces a clean, crisp print, these two objectives need not be mutually exclusive,” says Jeff Sanders, digital sales manager, PCF.

Interested parties are responding. 30 to 35 percent of conVerd’s customers seek sustainable options to fill their needs. 25 to 30 percent are intrigued by they sustainability, but see it as an added bonus.

“EcoMedia, Inc. entered the market at a price point competitive with traditional non-green banner products, enabling us to provide the consumer with a viable eco-friendly option resulting in minimal price increases over current materials. Inflated pricing hindered the green movement,” adds Jason Yost, director, EcoMedia.

Whether a job requires a rigid board, vinyl, or fabric—all are available for the eco-conscious customer. Pricing is a concern, but as demand grows this issue should subside. Vendors must focus on quality to encourage buyers to choose eco-friendly media over competing, non-green products.

May2010, Digital Output

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