By Olivia Cahoon
The need for more eco-friendly printing is evolving in a world focused on environmental stability. In response, media manufacturers create window materials made of recycled components. Unlike standard recyclable media, these products include recycled content such as paper, post-industrial materials, and recycled water bottles.
While window materials made of recycled content feed the demand for “greener” products, print service providers (PSPs) should ensure materials offer quality, printability, and removability. Added expenses should also be considered—as recycled content may cost more to produce.
Above: S-One company, LexJet, offers Squid, a PVC-free media that is now printable with latex in.
Demanding Recycled Materials
The demand for window materials made of recycled components is driven by growing environmental concerns from consumers as well as corporations.
As consumers become educated about the environmental impact of their daily routines and buying habits, there is a renewed drive to utilize recycled products as much as possible, says Brian Biegel, marketing communications specialist, D&K Group, Inc. Even in situations where a product does not contain recycled content, there is still a desire to utilize recycled components whenever possible.
End users are a main influence for window materials made of recycled components. “Our customers always ask if they are available,” shares James Halloran, VP, sales and marketing, Lintec of America. Until recently, these products were considered a difficult project to source and a high-quality recycled material.
More specifically, interior designers and architects often utilize recycled components—especially those with eco-conscious clients. According to Jason Amato, product manager, Dietzgen Corporation, the U.S. market demand for sustainable buildings and sustainable décor is increasing. “The expected annual growth rate for the green building materials market was 9.5 percent to nearly $69 billion over the last five years.”
Demand for window materials made of recycled components also originate from a general rising interest to make better long-term choices for the earth. For example, reducing waste, reusing, and recycling are becoming a part of everyone’s daily lives. “20 years ago this was something that was only important to a few consumers. Today this is essential to a large number of people,” comments Edwin Ramos, national sales manager, GBC & SEAL.
With a greater awareness for pollution, the public is more conscious of how their day-to-day activities contribute. For example, single-use water bottles and straws are now considered an eco-hazard and are being replaced for eco-friendlier options. Dione Metnick, product specialist, S-One Holdings Corporation, says this awareness has created a desire and demand to find a solution. “More products are entering the print market that are either made from recycled/reclaimed materials or can be recycled at the end of their lifecycle.”
Recyclable window materials are well established in the print industry yet the need for window materials made of recycled materials is high. Compared to recyclable products, materials made of recycled components push sustainable printing further.
Recycled components are a step in the right direction for designers, architects, and product manufacturers. “Sustainable design and products are not just a fad—they are here to stay,” explains Amato. “There are enough incentives to adopt a sustainable approach to improve long-term returns and save the environment.”
With increasing demands for sustainable architecture, Amato believes window media made of recycled components is a good opportunity for print media manufacturers to reduce the impact of products on natural environments. “This is especially important since most print material ends up in a landfill after the product has served its purpose.”
In fact, Biegel sees the need for recycled components increasing in the near future. As more plastics—especially single-use plastics—are recycled, there is a growing need to incorporate these recycled materials into more products, including window media. As consumer demands and buying trends also look towards products with recycled components, he believes the need for these types of items continue to grow.
“Across the board, products made of recycled components will eventually gain more favor than standard materials,” agrees Metnick. “This favor will increase the need for more products of this type in the coming years.”
Defining Recycled Materials
Recycled components are available in different materials and grades. The most common materials include recycled paper, post-industrial content, and water bottles.
Using a recycled paper or similar product and a polypropylene (PP) overlaminate is one method for creating a window graphic or polypropylene media made of recycled components. According to Ramos, PP is most often used as an environmentally friendly plastic because it is regarded as the least harmful plastic, can be made of recycled materials, and is recyclable.
There are also products made of post-industrial recycled content. Theresa Vanna, print market specialist, Primex Plastics Corporation, says some products are co-extruded/multi-layers with recycled contents buried in the center layers and others are made of post-consumer recycled content, like fabrics or plastics from water bottles.
Most bottles or containers are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET). Typically, PET is the recycled component found in many products made from recycled components. “The percentage varies, but I have seen products manufactured with a minimum of 80 percent recycled PET in them,” shares Amato.
Soda bottles are a prime example. The empty bottles can be ground into flakes, melted down, and formed into pellets that are sold to manufacturers. According to Amato, the manufacturer then melts down the pellets and forms new products such as window media.
Lintec’s newest product—ECO-2301 RC—is a three-layer film consisting of a printable optically clear face film, acrylic adhesive, and polyester base release liner. The face film is made from 80 percent recycled PET material, from recycled water bottles.
The Manufacturing Process
Part of the appeal of window output made from recycled components comes from the idea of a sustainable manufacturing process. However, the manufacturing process is not yet perfected across the board and includes challenges such as contamination.
Lintec’s recycling method diminishes the consumption of petroleum resources, resulting in a 24 percent reduction in carbon dioxide and 40 percent less energy used during the film manufacturing process. “For Lintec, this represents a small yet significant step forward towards the preservation of the environment,” says Halloran.
Despite this specific process, there is debate regarding how sustainable it is to manufacture recycled components and window media. According to Vanna, it may take more energy and natural resources like water to produce these items since the material sources may have to be de-inked, cleaned, and sorted.
In fact, Ramos believes the manufacturing process is not always sustainable. He says it’s typically similar to manufacturing regular window materials, although some PP gives off less toxins.
Contamination problems can also arise during the manufacturing process when recycling a component such as PET to create an eco-friendly product. According to Amato, the biggest issue is dealing with contamination of the recycled component by another product like PVC. To remove the contaminate increases the use of energy. “This process does have a negative impact on the environment, but scientists are working on ways of reducing this impact as technology improves,” he admits.
Quality, Print, & Remove
While window media products made of recycled components are ideal for eco-conscious end users, print providers don’t want to compromise on quality, printability, or removability.
According to Halloran, this is not the case for Lintec’s ECO-2301 RC window film. “This film features a good print treatment,” he explains.
In general, window materials made of recycled components can be difficult to work with and more rigid, but they are often an even better solution, says Ramos. “Sometimes we find that the end product is not as clear but the graphic often has an impact on whether or not this is the case.”
In the past, recycled components generally featured lower quality than similar virgin materials. Biegel says color consistency was especially problematic when manufacturing clear or white products. However, improvements in recycling and manufacturing processes make this concern obsolete. “Recycled components today frequently have comparable properties to their virgin counterparts and may even offer superior performance.”
Other concerns for these products occur when recycling or composting a printed product after use. For example, to maintain recyclability a recyclable film that uses a coating or laminate needs to use one that is recyclable. “The combination may need to be certified as recyclable too,” comments Metnick. “This can create a process issue for the printer.”
Tradeoff for Eco-Friendliness
When it comes to focusing on eco-friendliness, many print providers and end users may question if there is a tradeoff. This can include price, due diligence, education, and research and development (R&D).
Ramos believes the cost of PP compared to PVC or vinyl is often more expensive. Additionally, he says the end user is typically not willing to pay much more for eco-friendly materials. “They will choose it for a small markup but this cannot always be passed along dollar for dollar.”
“With our newest offering our pricing is right in line with our current non-recycled offering,” argues Halloran.
Due diligence and education are other hurdles to overcome for an eco-friendly environment. According to Biegel, this requires an upfront commitment to researching the eco-friendliest options available and truly vetting all environmental claims made by suppliers and manufacturers. It also likely requires efforts to educate customers about the advantages of using recycled components in their projects.
Regardless of R&D, Metnick believes that print providers that continue on the eco-friendly path reap the benefits. “Companies that figure it out will be rewarded in the long run, as consumers, especially, demand more sustainable solutions.”
Optically Clear Options
Depending on the product, optically clear options made of recycled components may not be as clear/see-through as their less-sustainably manufactured counterparts.
In Lintec’s case, Halloran says the clarity is ideal and optically clear. “We tested the recycled product for clarity and haze and found it to be equal to our non-recycled products.”
However, in some cases it’s difficult to get the clarity on recycled components compared to straight substrates, shares Ramos. “They will sometimes be hazier compared to their PVC counterparts.”
Vanna agrees but points out that clarity challenges can be limited depending on the polymer and the end user’s expectations for clarity. “Many films have a slight haze, however not enough to deter customers from printing/processing,” she adds.
Window materials made of recycled components such as PP are generally more expensive to manufacture than PVC or vinyl.
According to Ramos, the added cost to manufacture is passed to the product and print provider. Most PSPs then need to transfer the cost to their customers—resulting in a higher graphic price.
“The increased cost is generally because the raw material costs more or may have to be pre-processed before manufacturing a final product to sell,” explains Vanna.
In Amato’s experience, sustainable print media can cost 30 percent more than non-sustainable media options. As a result, he believes the cost of a large project using green print media becomes prohibitive to consumers when compared to the cost of using standard print media.
However, this upcharge may not affect a consumer’s decision to select eco-friendly media. According to Metnick, many consumer groups have reported that millennials, for example, are willing to pay more for finished products if they’re made from recycled components.
As more consumers demand eco-friendly initiatives and products, the need for materials made of recycled content increases. Window media that fits this space is often composed of recyclable PET materials such as water bottles. Manufacturers of these products are working hard to meet standards for quality and printability.
While there is a concern for higher prices and challenging manufacturing processes, window materials made of recycled components fill a demand for sustainable printing, especially for architects and interior designers.
Feb2020, Digital Output