Biodegradable and Recyclable
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Biodegradable and Recyclable
Last month, SGIA conducted an informal survey titled ??Environmental Impact.?? The results were interesting ?? and somewhat surprising. Not surprising, a resounding 62 percent agreed that global warming was real and a growing concern. Asked what has been done to reduce environmental impact, the highest marks went to installation of energy efficient compact bulbs (66 percent) and establishment of a recycling program for paper, aluminum, glass, plastics and other materials (68 percent). This leads us to an interesting point of discussion, and one that is currently raging within the specialty graphic imaging industry.

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Two new buzz words ?C recycling and biodegradability -- can be heard throughout the specialty graphic imaging industry sector and resonate with us all. Customers are beginning to ask for imaging facilities to print on recyclable substrates, substrates with a high recycled content, and/or substrates that are biodegradable. While the federal government has not offered definitive guidelines regarding such products, the private sector, in the form of standards bodies as well as other certification entities, have stepped up to fill in the void. We cannot hope to address all organizations that offer certification opportunities, but the following are offered as examples of what options exist today.


First, let??s address the issue of compostable products. The Biodegradable Products Institute offers a labeling program to all products that meet specifications provided in the American Society for Testing Materials (ASTM) Standards, D6400-04, and Standard Specification for Compostable Plastics or D6868-03, Standard Specification for Biodegradable Plastics Used as Coatings on Paper and Other Compostable Substrates. ASTM is a consensus based standard setting organization


Both standards are intended to be used to ??establish the requirements for labeling of materials and products, including packaging made from plastics, as ??compostable in municipal and industrial composting faculties.???? These standards, which include test methods, determine if plastics and other plastic products compost, including biodegrading, at a rate comparable to other composting materials. The standard also addresses the composted material, ensuring that the addition of the plastic will not jeopardize the value or utility of the resulting composted material. Products passing the testing requirements can appropriately be labeled ??compostable?? in accordance with the guidelines issued by the Federal Trade Commission.


There is no requirement that all plastics used in the imaging industry be certified or carry the label of this organization. However, it is interesting to note that there are standards available that measure the compostability of a plastic product. It is encouraging to find that there are avenues that an imaging facility can follow to truly determine if the products offered are compostable.


The term recycling conjures visions of glass, cardboard, office paper, light bulbs and the like. When it comes to the use of recycled substrates, there are a few terms that must be understood as not all recycled content products are created equal.


If a product, such as a substrate, is called recycled, it means that it contains some percentage of recovered material. It cannot be construed to mean that the product is made from 100% recycled materials. To further complicate the issue, there are two types of recycled materials.


Pre-consumer materials refers to a type of recovered materials, such as mill trimmings, damaged goods, or overruns, that are commonly generated by manufacturers and put back into the manufacturing process.


Post-consumer materials includes items such as corrugated boxes, office paper, scrap metal and wood that have been used by consumers, separated from the trash, and collected in recycling programs before being remanufactured. For example, high quality office paper is commonly available in ranges from 30 to 100% post-consumer content.

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Manufacturers of recycled substrates should be able to provide the imaging facility with information regarding recycled content of materials, and whether or not it is pre- or post-consumer waste. While the use of these types of materials does not represent a silver bullet that will make a facility instantly sustainable, it is information one can use to help develop goals and objectives to move forward

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