The chemical makeup of a substrate determines its sustainability. Manufacturers avoid using plastics that contain harmful additives to offer “green” materials that still provide durability and flexibility. This holds true for film, vinyl, fabric, and rigid board. Despite this, the usage of these plastics remains steady as certain applications and environments benefit from the stability they offer.
Not Just One to Blame
A variety of plastics are found in the makeup of media. These include polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polypropylene (PP), polyethylene (PE), polycarbonate, polystyrene, polytetraflouroethylene, polyurethane, polymethyl methacrylate, polyimide, and polyester.
Certain plastics are considered more sustainable than others. For example, ClingZ Inc.’s electrically charged printable film is made up of recyclable PP—a #5 plastic. As such it is tested and compliant with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, REACH, and is considered safe by the Food and Drug Administration for incidental food contact.
Bryan Rose, VP/GM, commercial graphics division, Cooley Group, argues that PE is a viable alternative in that it contains no phthalate plasticizers, is light in weight, and is 100 percent recyclable. According to Rose, it is the most recycled plastic in the world.
A subset of PE is high-density PE (HDPE). DuPont’s Tyvek is mainly composed of HDPE polymer, without plasticizers. The low additive content allows for its recyclability.
Hewlett-Packard (HP) offers its HP HDPE Reinforced Banner. “It offers uncompromised tear resistance that equals or exceeds that of PVC. This banner material is weather-, water-, and fade-resistant. It is stitched, grommeted, and welded as needed,” explains Ellen Chappell, PhD, program manager, HP.
The plastic itself usually isn’t the problem—it is the additives. Certain plastics contain plasticizers such as benzoates, phthalates like di-ethylhexyl phthalate, formaldehyde in the adhesive, or heavy metals including cadmium, lead, antimonies, phosphates, and chromium. These can be toxic to human health and the environment, with many chemicals not breaking down properly in landfills and migrating into the ground and water supplies.
“Careful selection is important because in many cases additives can have a greater green impact. Plasticizers, colorants, fire retardants, and UV stabilizers are balanced in formulations to maximize product performance and the green factor. PVC-based products are most impacted by these additives, particularly plasticizers, some of which have gained national media attention for health concerns,” shares Bill Decker, VP R&D operations, Neschen Americas.
A plastic’s harmfulness rating is based on molecular weight, with a higher molecular weight considered a more superior option. For example, Renolit manufactures polymeric films with a high molecular weight to create a greener product that still benefits from a plasticizer’s flexibility, elasticity, and conformability properties—something essential in the wrap market.
Likewise, Ultraflex Systems, Inc. offers BIOflex, which is a biodegradable PVC media. Despite it being made of PVC, it features a patented chemistry that allows it to degrade when placed in a landfill.
Robert Rundle, viscom marketing manager, Ritrama, explains that when manufacturing the company’s vinyl media it requires that the vinyl chloride monomer in the PVC resin is kept under control. The result is no harmful monomers in the material.
Photo Tex Group, Inc. employs its factory workers to look over lists of approved and not-approved chemicals and other elements to ensure its Photo Tex wallcovering media remains sustainable. “When it comes to explaining what is green or not, there are many different guidelines. Our factory looks over a list of chemicals to see if we have green or toxic substrates. We then create a report to send when requested,” explains Walter Gierlach Jr., president, Photo Tex.
The product development process plays a significant role in the definition of a media’s sustainability. David Lunati, VP of marketing and business development, Monadnock Paper Mills, Inc., explains that the company enacts a holistic approach when it comes to creating its products for digital wide format print, a market where Monadnock is seeing 50 percent growth year over year.
Each substrate in its EnviPortfolio is fiber based, made up of renewable sources and a high percentage of post-consumer waste and is completely recyclable. To get to this point, Monadnock works up and down its supply chain as a mentor, working with partners and suppliers to earn certifications and meet greater sustainability benchmarks.
Many manufacturers attempt to avoid vinyl chloride in media creation and look to polyester as an acceptable alternative. “Polyester is a clear and dimensionally stable polymer, making it ideal for glass decoration. It also has the benefit of not being a PVC-based film, thereby not containing vinyl chloride, which is not good for the environment,” says Jim Halloran, VP sales and marketing, Lintec Corporation of America. The company creates mostly polyester-based products, including its Wincos UV film line.
Continental Grafix provides its panoRama film, which is polyester. Additionally, its sister company, Kernow Coatings Ltd., offers HydroSol 205STLR. Also a polyester-based film, it consists of 30 percent post-consumer recycled bottles.
Textile vendors turn towards polyester. Aurora Specialty Textiles Group, Inc.’s (ASTG’s) uncoated fabrics are 100 percent polyester. In addition three of these styles are constructed with 100 percent post-consumer polyester fiber. Traditional PVC-based banner material is created in layers, allowing over 90 percent of the product to be PVC and the remaining percentage fabric mesh. ASTG takes that ratio and flips it by making 90 percent of the product’s weight fabric and ten percent a polymer coating.
McGrann Digital Imaging offers Easy-Tex self-adhesive wallpaper. It is a 100 percent polyester woven fabric ideal for most aqueous printing systems.
Top Value Fabrics’ (TVF’s) Direct Print Textiles, which are REACH compliant, are polyester based. Producing vibrant results with an upscale look and feel, they are used for banners, trade show exhibits, point of purchase displays, flags, fine art, and interior design.
Eric Tischer, president, Verseidag seemee US Inc., explains that potentially harmful components found in vinyl and textiles can come from within the top coatings for ink receptivity, fire retardancy, or chemical resistance, but a majority of today’s manufacturers typically use environmentally friendly components for their fabrics. A majority of Verseidag seemee’s fabrics are free of PVC and production typically utilizes water-based ink receptive top coatings, in lieu of solvent, which contains toxic components.
Similarly, ASTG ensures it flame retardant treatment does not contain halogens or bromides. Its coated fabrics are offered in both vinyl and acrylic polymer water-based chemistries.
“Apart from PVC, a variety of chemical coatings are applied to fabrics including print enhancers and flame repels. The care that is taken in applying these coatings is crucial to the environment,” agrees Jeff Sanders, digital fabrics sales manager, Pacific Coast Fabrics (PCF).
PCF’s Deko-Green is PVC free, made from 100 percent recycled PE terephthalate (PET)—soda bottles—filament. Certified by Oeko-Tex 100, the line is devoid of harmful substances.
Equality in Durability
Many print service providers question what components make up a sustainable product that allow it to perform as well as its less eco-friendly counterpart. Years of research and development involve manufacturers investigating these elements and evolving product portfolios.
3M Commercial Graphics offers Envision Print Wrap Film 480Cv3 and Overlaminate 8548G. They are non-PVC, phthalate free, made with 60 percent less solvent during manufacturing, and contain at least ten percent bio-based material. “We leveraged resources to identify non-PVC film formulations that retained, and in some cases improved, on the characteristics of the product,” shares Mandy Hulke, product responsibility, 3M.
Cooley now offers a lighter weight PVC material as it reduced its weight from the traditional 12 ounces per square yard to seven ounces, thus utilizing fewer raw materials. Post-industrial regrind has been successfully added into the products, and the banners and billboards made from its 7 oz. vinyl can be recycled and reused. “We successfully incorporated the three key EPA sustainability pillars—reduce, reuse, recycle—into the design of our lightweight, recyclable PVC products without sacrificing quality,” explains Rose.
Fisher Textiles Inc.’s Enviro-Tex fabric portfolio is manufactured from Repreve recycled yarn. This yarn is created through a proprietary process from recycled PET bottles. “While regular polyester fabrics are created from petroleum-based polymers, Repreve polyester fabrics are created from PET bottles, once the yarn is created they are equal and difficult to determine a difference,” acknowledges James Gay, director of marketing, Fisher Textiles.
Hexis S.A. substitutes latex into its eco-friendly line of films, which include printable HXL3000WG2 with structured repositionable adhesive and PL300CG2 clear laminate. Cast from an emulsion of a synthetic latex, it combines all the properties required for usage—conformability and durability—without plasticizers. Martin Kugler, corporate communications manager, Hexis, explains that synthetic latex is used over natural to avoid any allergy issues.
Neschen eliminates heavy metals in the formulation of its vinyl films. In addition, its adhesive chemistry utilizes high-performance, ultra-low volatile organic compound emulsion chemistry, where water carries its adhesives and coatings.
While many manufacturers turn to cleaner plastics as the base product, others choose to work with no plastics at all. “Depending on the application, paper, aluminum foil, or fabric can perform as well or better than plastic materials. Each has its limitations, they can be used in a variety of applications,” shares Marcel Medved, business development director, Asphalt Art USA.
Acumen Mosaic, Inc. represents The Katz Group, which manufactures Katz Display Board from spruce wood and starch. These materials are ground, pulped, and made into the cardboard core that is the basis for the board. The media is 100 percent recyclable and contains 33 percent pre-consumer recycled content.
According to Stan Holt, business development manager North America, Acumen Mosaic, the process used to create Katz Display Board provides its stability. “It starts flat and stays flat, unaffected by indoor temperatures or humidity, requiring no plastic additives for stability,” he adds.
Asphalt Art’s floor graphic product is aluminum foil based and 100 percent recyclable. The benefits go beyond sustainability; the foil base is thin enough to conform to rough, untreated surfaces like stone and cement. This allows printed street graphics to resemble painted images.
Drytac Corporation spent two years developing its portfolio of BioLam laminating films. Looking to produce a green alternative, it created a facestock derived from wood pulp from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified forests. Both matte and gloss substrates are coated with a water-based adhesive with a thin polyester release liner. Virtually identical to its PVC counterparts, the difference is they contain no raw plastic materials or UV blocking additives.
HP also promotes its PVC-free Wall Paper product as eco-friendly. Paper-based, the fiber used in this material is sourced from responsible forestry practices, making it certified by the FSC. In addition, the wallpaper is Greenguard certified assuring consumers that it leaves no harmful effects on indoor air quality.
Monadnock’s fiber-based wallcovering product grew out of years of research and development, leading to an unplastic paper formulation that is durable and self supporting. With this advancement, wallcoverings—an area that was once primarily vinyl—is becoming a natural fit for fiber-based products. Monadnock recognizes the 2.2 billion dollar wallcovering industry and geared its FSC-certified Envi Wallgraphics line to meet the growing demand in that segment for sustainable alternatives.
Natural AdCampaign Ltd.’s NatureWoven and TierraFilm are created from 100 percent natural raw materials and free of plastics. Vegetable fibers, natural rubber, and tree- and plant-based matter including cotton and cellulose are components. “The plant matter absorbs large amounts of carbon dioxide during the growth phase and requires only a fraction of the energy required to produce synthetics,” shares Matt Devlin, VP business development North America, Natural AdCampaign.
Visual Magnetics LP recently introduced two products made from all natural materials. Its VM-ECOten comes from FSC-certified cellulose and VM-Harvest 32 is made up of natural jute fabric. In addition, its VM-Monarch 22 and VM-Luna 14 MagnaMedia fabrics consist of 100 percent post-consumer polyester.