Dead Tree Edition

Green printing bill unveiled -- and sure to be controversial

By Dead Tree Edition Wed, Jul 28, 2010

USA, July 29, 2010 (RISI) -A proposed U.S. tax credit for "green" printing that was unveiled this week could lead to some interesting arguments among environmentalists, printers, paper mills, and print-buying organizations.

AsDead Tree Editionreported last month inFederal Subsidy For Green Printing To Be Proposed, Print Buyers Online revealed theproposed legislationat a conference this week as scheduled.

The legislation would be good news for paper mills using recycled fiber and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative but bad news for big printers and overseas paper manufacturers.

To be declared "a qualified sustainable print project" must meet 13 of 15 criteria, including (with my comments in Italics):

  • "The materials used in the print project must be recyclable."(All of the materials? Can ink be considered recyclable if paper has to be de-inked before being recycled?)
  • "The print project must contain verbiage that encourages the reader to recycle the printed piece."(That's a no-brainer for direct mail, publications, and cereal boxes. But it's trickier for printed products that don't contain words, like wallpaper, vinyl flooring, and electronic circuits.)
  • "The print project must contain verbiage that allows prospects/customers to opt-out from further printed communications."(How do you opt out of receiving a cardboard box? There needs to be a distinction between something meant for paying customers and one meant for prospects.)
  • "The paper or substrate must contain over 25 percent post-consumer waste for coated paper stock and 50 percent post-consumer waste for uncoated paper stock."(That will be tough for overseas paper mills because the U.S. is one of the few countries that distinguishes between pre-consumer and post-consumer waste.)
  • "The paper or substrate must be produced Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) or Process Chlorine Free (PCF)."
  • "The paper or substrate must be certified by a credible third-party chain-of-custody certifier, such as The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)."(Putting SFI on the same footing as FSC will not go over well with groups like Greenpeace and ForestEthics.)
  • "The ink, coating, laminates and/or adhesives must emit no more than 2 percent volatile organic compounds (VOC) for sheet-fed printing, no more than 30 percent VOCs for heat-set web printing, no more than 10 percent VOCs for cold-set web printing and no more than five 5 percent VOCs for flexographic printing."(What about other printing processes, like inkjet and rotogravure? And does "emit" refer to what comes off the press or what escapes from the building?)
  • "If a print project is 96 pages or less and is bound as a book, the book will be bound as saddle stitched rather than perfect bound."(Interesting. I don't recall seeing any discussion of saddle vs. perfect in articles about green printing.)
  • "The printer who manufactures the print project must not have been fined for violations in the past five years from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), or by state or federal regulators for environmental, health or safety issues."(I'm guessing a lot of the big multi-plant printers have received an OSHA fine at one of their plants in the past five years.)

I'm skeptical of well-meaning efforts to subsidize environmentally responsible behavior because such legislation is so open to abuse by businesses and legislators. (Seeblack liquor tax credits,Son of Black Liquor, andGrandson of Black Liquor.)

But there's something to be said for trying to define what environmentally friendly printing is, even if the first draft is a bit rough. I wonder if some day environmental groups will press corporations about the inks, binding methods, and opt-out provisions they use in their printed materials instead of just focusing on the source of the paper.

This article originally appeared at Dead Tree Edition (, which is written by a magazine-industry manager who goes by the pseudonym D. Eadward Tree. Comments made in this blog are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect that of RISI, Inc., its parent company or sponsors.



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