By Olivia Cahoon
Part 1 of 2
Environmental concerns create a demand from both print service providers (PSPs) as well as end users for “greener” products. Digital printing is no exception with textiles promoted as an eco-friendly substrate option. However, today’s media manufacturers are further improving textiles by creating substrates made out of recycled water bottle filaments and recycled yarns.
Eco-friendly textiles are used for a variety of applications but are most commonly requested for interior graphics. Certifications are available that guarantee the substrate is made without harmful chemicals.
While several green options are available for digital printing, a popular trend is to use fabric created from recycled plastic bottles, which are made into filament yarns that are utilized for high-quality fabric.
For example, Fisher Textiles’ Enviro-Tex fabric line is made with Repreve recycled yarns. Unifi creates the recycled fibers using a three-step process. PET bottles are chopped into small pieces, ground, melted, and reformulated into the Repreve chip, which is then manufactured into Repreve fibers.
Creating substrates with recycled water bottle filaments has significant environmental benefits. Sharon Roland, advertising and PR manager, Fisher Textiles, says it not only prevents plastic bottles from going into landfills but it also conserves petroleum resources and conserves energy, which would otherwise be used to produce virgin polyester.
As a print provider, knowing and understanding that you have a positive impact on the environment is a benefit in itself. According to Mike Compton, print media product marketing manager, Top Value Fabrics, every second of the day, Americans discard 1,500 plastic bottles—equaling 38 billion bottles entering landfills annually. “Since plastic bottles are a petroleum-based product, this is the equivalent 912 million gallons of oil.”
Eco-friendly options are popular for interior applications such as wall graphics. Often times, architects and designers are sensitive to traditional products featuring a bad smell from off gassing and emissions. In response, manufacturers develop substrates that are inherently PVC free and contain recycled content, explains Anthony Pappalardo, sales manager North America, Dickson Coatings.
Additionally, PVC-free textiles are safer for human health than traditional vinyl. Pappalardo cautions, “PSPs should be aware of any emissions or off gassing of the products they are using for interior applications such as wall graphics and signage.”
Demand & Technology
Demand for more recyclable fabrics as well as fabrics constructed with recycled content is on the rise. In fact, many major brands seek eco-friendly textiles as a requirement to conduct business with PSPs.
Compton advises, “PSPs should consult with and count on their digital textile suppliers to guide them toward the proper product for their print systems and production focused on sustainability.”
Textiles made from recycled yarn are not only a green option but are also easier to handle with a very light weight. This translates to saved energy during transport, shares Fabian Kampsen, market manager graphics, Heytex.
While eco-friendly textiles are better for the environment, the true benefit depends on the printing technology. “It makes no sense to have a super green product printed with UV or solvent inks afterwards, this would defeat the purpose,” says Kampsen. PSPs can pair recyclable fabrics and fabrics created from recycled materials with water-based inks to greatly reduce landfill waste.
Certifications That Count
Print providers can ensure digital textiles are eco-friendly by looking for certain certifications.
The REACH compliant program and OEKO-TEX Standard 100 are two popular certifications. “These certifications mean the fabrics were produced utilizing no environmentally hazardous chemicals or processes in product and coating, ensuring the digital textiles utilized by print providers are 100 percent eco-friendly,” explains Compton.
Fabrics are often certified by third parties through verification programs and green technology. Product certifications are generally renewed on an annual basis. According to Roland, certifications guarantee that products are made from recyclable content and are a true green effort.
While eco-friendly textile options provide benefits in feel and environmental impact, they do come at a cost. Green options are typically more expensive than traditional materials.
According to Kampsen, eco-friendly textiles are more expensive due to the usage of appropriate raw materials. “Recycled yarns are more expensive, as well as alternative coatings compared to PVC are more expensive.”
As the industry and end user clientele continue to push for eco-friendly fabrics, manufacturing processes are improving and production increasing. Compton believes with increased production runs and streamlined manufacturing, the overall cost for eco-friendly fabrics has and will continue to diminish.
Roland adds, “the cost for green fabric has reduced drastically through the years, making it competitively priced and a more viable fabric media option.”
While textiles are inherently eco-friendly, today’s media manufacturers are stepping up to make greener options by creating substrates made out of recycled water bottle filaments. PSPs that use eco-friendly textiles—especially those with a certification—can guarantee their products are environmentally safe. While green textiles options are typically more expensive than traditional materials, the demand for safer alternatives is lowering costs.
Part two of this series provides a selection of available eco-friendly textiles.
Sep2019, Digital Output