The Blue Ribbon Task Force Print Buyer Guidelines

Environmental Considerations for the Print Buyer

A step-by-step guide on how to minimize the environmental impacts of your printed materials while accounting for cost, quality and design.

Buyers and designers of print materials are well aware of the importance and power of the printed piece. You make choices which influence the quality, design and cost of your printed materials. These decisions also impact the environment. The sheer volume, energy, and materials involved in the printing process, from pre-press to disposal, have implications for air and water quality, waste disposal and energy use.

There are, however, choices you can make to help alleviate the environmental impact in the print and publishing industry. Some of these choices include making simple changes, others may be more complicated. But all of these choices are dependent on having the right information, and effectively communicating your requests to your printer and paper supplier. Achieving the best environmental outcome requires building relationships and using systematic approaches that can improve the quality of the final product.

The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Print Buyer Guidelines was formed to help you make the most of your print choices. This proactive guide is the result of the Task Force's work which explains print options that are environmentally sound, economically feasible, and which ensure the quality of your printed materials. The Guidelines are a tool to help you influence products and processes used in producing printed materials by requesting environmentally sound alternatives from your printer, based on the best available information.

By asking your printer questions and by using these Blue Ribbon suggestions, you are reminding printers, suppliers, manufacturers and customers that environmental performance is important to you.

The Blue Ribbon Task Force was formed to create these guidelines and to help learn about environmentally preferable options which are available to you.

For specific recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Task Force, click on the topics below.


As you read these recommendations, consider that printing choices and options are constantly changing and improving. New technologies are supplying the industry with better choices that may ensure quality while minimizing environmental impact. These recommendations offer a broad range of alternative choices that, when considered, can help you and your printer to maximize a job's quality while minimizing environmental impact.

If you need a printed version of the recommendations, please consider printing this web page. If you need a better-looking version, MEI still has a very few copies and we can send one to you. Please contact Ellen Kazary at MEI. Guidelines are free of charge to Minnesota businesses and residents. Out-of-state distribution requires a $3 fee, which covers shipping and handling.

Design for environment and pre-press technologies:
What to think about before starting your job

Design for the Environment: Thinking Through Your Choices at the Outset

Before beginning a print job, whether a catalog, magazine, annual report or flyer, ask the following:

The Most Important Factor is to have Early and Frequent Consultations with your Printer

Communicate with your printer as early as possible to make your decision process the easiest.

Stress the importance of environmentally preferable printing options early, and the printer will supply you with ideas that are cost conscious and environmentally friendly while meeting your other requirements. You will spend less time and money than you would having to make last minute adjustments at the end.

Pre-press Technology: Consider using pre-press technologies which eliminate or reduce wastes.

Ask your printer if there are pre-press options that suit your printing needs which are made with the least amount of hazardous materials, where the wastes can be recycled, and where any hazardous by-products can be pre-treated and hazardous wastes minimized.

Different pre-press technologies have different waste issues associated with them. Choices which reduce the need for hazardous waste disposal, films, hazardous chemicals, and processes which can capture and recover silver are better for the environment.

Some options may include using paper printing plates, Direct to Plate and Digital Print processing, and water- based (aqueous) chemistry. These options are not available for all print jobs, however, and may be more expensive.

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Paper Choices Forest Management Practices, Recycled Papers, Chlorine Issues Paper Weight, Trim Size, and Paper Brightness

Forest Management Practices

Buy paper that is produced by a company with a stated commitment to environmental stewardship, and to minimizing ecological impacts and ensuring long term sustainable production.

Scientifically managed forests foster a healthier environment, enhancing water, soil and air quality, protecting biodiversity, and providing raw materials to produce paper on a long term basis.

Many paper companies now have annual performance reports or environmental reports that discuss their management practices. Your printer or paper supplier can obtain these reports.

The paper quality and competitive price will not be sacrificed by using paper that is from a properly managed forest area.

Order paper from a local paper mill to minimize the environmental impacts of long distance shipping. Avoid ordering "mill-order only" paper for the same reason.

Recycled Papers

Post-consumer recycled papers contain fibers from papers that have been reclaimed from the waste stream after their intended use is over. Paper manufactured from office paper that has been recovered from the waste stream as part of a recycling program is an example of paper with post-consumer content.

Pre-consumer recycled papers are papers made from fibers that are recovered and recaptured before reaching the customer. Mill broke papers from pulp and paper mills, and trim wastes are examples. Traditionally these pre-consumer scraps have been recycled because there is a financial advantage to not wasting excess paper.

By purchasing paper with recycled content, you are diverting waste from landfills, incinerators or other waste disposal options. By specifying post-consumer content papers, you are helping to expand the recycling market to ensure that recycling programs stay viable and effective. As an added benefit, using papers from recycled stock means using fewer trees to make the paper.

Uncoated Paper

Use paper with a high percentage of post-consumer recycled paper for fine text, writing, and cover grades.

Commodity grades are better suited for a lower percent of post-consumer content. Follow the EPA guidelines (currently recommending 20% post-consumer content).

Depending on the application, consider that the higher the recycled content, the lower the brightness, strength, and the more visible the contaminants may be. The level of recycled content that is most appropriate for your application should be determined in consultation with your print or paper vendor.

Depending on market conditions and the type of paper, recycled paper prices may be competitive with virgin stock. Ask your printer or paper supplier and keep in mind that recycled paper prices fluctuate over time.

Coated Paper

When using coated paper, specify at least 10% post-consumer recycled paper.

Coated paper with 10% post-consumer recycled content will show no difference in quality.

Ask your printer to work with its supplier on finding price comparable recycled content coated papers.


Buy paper with pulp that is brightened without the use of chlorine.

The traditional way of bleaching pulp has come under scrutiny over the last decade as research has linked industrial effluents such as dioxins with risks to the environment and to humans. Dioxins are toxic chlorinated compounds generated when chlorine is used in the bleaching process.

Totally chlorine free paper (TCF) is manufactured without the use of elemental chlorine, or chlorine compounds. Instead, alternative methods including oxygen and hydrogen peroxide are used to bleach the pulp. Using TCF methods eliminates the health risks associated with chlorine and chlorine compounds and also reduces water consumption in the bleaching process.

Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) paper uses processes which replace chlorine with chlorine dioxide in the first stage of chemical pulp bleaching. These processes are used as acceptable substitutes for chlorine bleached paper by some people because the amount of dioxin is reduced to non-detect levels. Water consumption also decreases with ECF processing.

Both TCF and ECF papers significantly reduce the persistent, bio-accumulative compounds from the mill waste water that are associated with traditional chlorine bleaching processes.

Talk to your paper vendor or printer about the price and applicability of TCF and ECF papers.

Encourage them to find the latest information, as new technologies are providing better quality papers with less environmental damage. There are different grades of TCF and ECF paper which may be suitable and available for your specific printing application. Generally, ECF papers are readily available and priced competitively with chorine bleached papers as most mills in the U.S. are switching to this technology. You may find TCF paper prices are higher than other papers. Some major catalogues and magazines are printed on TCF papers today.

Recycled and Chlorine Free Papers

When requesting recycled papers, ask for papers where the virgin component of the paper is manufactured without elemental chlorine or chlorine compounds (ECF or TCF) and the post-consumer waste fibers have been bleached without chlorine during the recycling and re-pulping process.

There are many terms used to describe a chlorine free process of paper making when including recycled paper fibers. Many mills and other organizations have different terms and ways of describing the process where both the virgin pulp and the recycled fibers are processed without chlorine. Common terms include processed chlorine free (PCF), recycled chlorine free (RCF) and secondary chlorine free (SCF).

Mechanical Pulping Processes

Inquire about papers that substitute mechanical pulp for bleached kraft pulp, when appropriate.

All coated printing and writing papers contain some softwood bleached kraft pulp as a strengthening agent. Papers with a maximum groundwood content are environmentally preferable yet meet the strength requirements. Mechanical pulping processes have fewer releases to the environment and use about half as much wood as paper that contains bleached kraft pulp. Mechanical pulping processes, however, require more energy use, and therefore, the resulting air pollutants depend on the kind of energy used to generate the electricity .

Paper Brightness

Use paper bright enough for, but not exceeding, the design needs.

Increased brightness may require more bleach and other chemicals in the pulping process.

Trim Size

Work with your printer to determine what pre-cut paper sizes are available before deciding on your exact trim size.

Most papers come in pre-cut sizes or rolls. By adjusting your trim sizes slightly, you may be able to place more layouts on a sheet than originally planned. Trim adjustments could reduce the amount of paper wasted. In addition to offering environmental benefits, optimizing trim size could reduce your paper and printing costs.

Paper Basis Weight

Consider lowering your paper basis weight (from 80 lb. to 70 lb., for example).

Fewer fibers are needed per sheet of paper, saving resources.

When lowering your paper weight slightly, the finished product often looks and performs the same as the higher weight. Ask your printer for comparison samples.

The cost of your paper will be lower by using a lower paper weight. The mailing costs of a finished piece may also decrease due to the weight reduction.

Other Layout considerations

If appropriate, consider printing on both sides of the paper, and reducing the width of the margins and font size.

These options will save both resources and money.

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Ink Composition

Reduce Volatile Organic Compounds by Making Appropriate Ink Choices

There are three general areas of concern which relate to the composition and environmental impact of printing inks : volatile organic compounds (VOCs), non-renewable resources, and heavy metals.

Volatile organic compounds are carbon containing compounds that contribute to air and water pollution when they escape into the air by evaporation. These are mostly derived from petroleum products and are used as solvents.

Request inks which emit low amounts of VOCs (volatile organic compounds).

Ask your printer what percent of VOCs are emitted when the ink dries, and how that compares to other inks. The amount of VOCs emitted will depend on the type of printing (for example, sheetfed or web off-set), but the following can serve as a recommended guide: less than 10% VOCs for sheetfed printing and less than 30% for heatset printing.

Request inks made with renewable resources, such as oils from vegetables, soy, linseed, and other agricultural products.

Vegetable based inks such as soy based inks are made with a certain amount of vegetable oil rather than petroleum oil. These inks are better for the environment because they are partially made with renewable resources such as soy, linseed, and corn, and use less non-renewable resources, such as petroleum oil. In order for the inks to work well and dry efficiently, vegetable based inks still contain some amount of petroleum oil. If no petroleum oil were used, the energy use in the print shop would increase because more heat would be needed to dry the inks, thus counteracting the environmental benefit of using vegetables instead of petroleum. In that regard, the American Soybean Association established that in order to use the soy logo, the ink solvent must contain a minimum amount of soybean oil depending on the type of printing, meaning that a large percent of a "soy ink" solvent can be made from petroleum. That is why it is important to specify inks which emit low amount of VOCs.

Vegetable based inks may also reduce the levels of VOCs and other pollutants emitted in the printing process.

Technologies are quickly adapting to combat quality problems that were originally associated with using soy or other vegetable based inks.

Vegetable based inks can be used with overprint coating processes.

Currently, vegetable based ink prices are competitive with petroleum based inks.

Inks should not contain any intentionally added heavy metals.

Alternative pigment color choices are available which almost always can be closely matched to the color you want without using heavy metals.

Pigments give the ink its colors. Certain pigments are formulated with metals which can result in environmental and worker health hazards when metals are extracted, processed, or disposed. Try to avoid using inks with added antimony, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, as well as metallic colors. Using substitutes for these colors are better for the environment, and these ink colors may require additional steps in the press cleaning process which may be hazardous as well.

Reused Inks

Some printers are now able to capture old ink and reuse parts of the ink. This saves the earth's natural resources and reduces the amount of ink requiring disposal.

Reused "black" inks will not hinder the quality of your published piece, depending on the process your printer uses. Talk with your printer about the options that exist.

Ink Coverage

Try to use less ink coverage.

Heavy ink coverage uses more resources and creates more waste. Heavy ink coverage also may impact the recycling opportunities by increasing the amount of sludge created in the recycling process.

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Overprint Coatings Aqueous Coatings, UV Coatings, Varnishes and Lamination

Consider how your published piece will be used when deciding if you need an overprint coat or varnish. Printing on coated stock paper without overprint coatings may be sufficient for most jobs.

If you decide to use an overprint coat, communicate with your printer as to the best alternative.

Different chemicals are used to produce the various types of coatings, some of these are potentially harmful to human health and to the environment.

Aqueous Coatings

A Water Based (Aqueous) Lacquer Coating is often the best overprint choice in term of environmental impact.

Paper with water based lacquer coatings can be recycled and re-pulped, depending on what local recycling centers will take, and emit no harmful byproducts in the process. The cleanup process in the plant is easy and does not require toxic cleaning detergents nor does it use high temperatures.

Water based lacquer coatings are available for jobs that require a shiny, thicker coating. The variety of aqueous coatings available satisfy many needs, including high scuff resistance, work and turn, high gloss and dull finishes. Aqueous coatings also eliminate the spray powder used in some varnishes which give the publications a rougher feeling. However, not all printed pieces can use this technique.

Water based coatings are often the most economical coating choice.

Do not use catalytic cured water based (aqueous) coatings.

Formaldehyde, a harmful by-product, is emitted in this process.

UV Coatings

The process of UV coating emits no toxic byproducts, however, strict environmental, health and safety measures in the print shop must be maintained in order for the process to be safe for the workers.

The clean up process for UV coatings require chemicals that could be dangerous if not used properly. The UV coating process also requires higher energy use due to UV lamps and air conditioning requirements. There are also some safety implications, and workers must be protected from the UV light rays.

The ability to recycle printed materials with UV coatings varies from place to place. Current technology allows for UV coated printed materials to be recycled. However, too much UV coated material in a batch can cause problems and the paper will not be re-pulped.


Overprint varnishes are more easily recyclable than the UV coated stock, however, VOCs are emitted in the coating process.

Some print shops are able to safely destroy the coating emissions through a catalytic converter. If you are using overprint varnishes, make sure the print shop has the capability to capture the emissions or destroy them.


Lamination is not an environmentally sound recommended finish on a published piece.

VOCs are emitted during lamination if it is solvent based. Large amounts of adhesives are used in some laminating which also creates an issue in the re-pulping process.

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The Finishing Touches Bindings & Glues, Marketing your Materials, and Communicating with your Readers

Glues for Bindings and Labels

Specify glues which emit no VOCs in the process, and ones which are able to be recycled. Water based, non-chlorinated glues are a good example.

Glues which emit no or very low amounts of VOCs can be used for most print jobs. Glues with fewer solvents should also not pose problems in recycling.

Ask your printer about the most environmentally friendly option for labeling depending on your requirements.

Labeling options will vary depending on the paper stock and intended use. Ask about options which minimize adhesives and solvent based glues.

Water based ink jet labeling can be used for some print jobs, but not all, due to the fast drying time required for most labeling jobs.

The Final Order: Analyze the number of copies needed for the job.

Reducing the number of printed pieces has obvious cost and waste reduction savings associated with it, as long as you do not end up having to run a re-print.

Marketing Considerations

Inquire about the recyclability of your advertising and marketing choices including scratch off, foils, plastic polystyrenes and polyesters.

Check with your printer about the more environmentally friendly options for special marketing techniques, taking into consideration the resources used to make them as well as the recyclability. For example, a "peek - a -boo" pouch may be used instead of a scratch off foil with similar affects.

Other environmentally friendly alternatives include: water based coatings instead of plastic and polystyrenes, water based inks instead of using foils, and pouch game tickets instead of scratch off foils.

Mailing Lists: Evaluate your mailing list and keep it updated.

By deleting duplicates and targeting specific audiences you can save money on mailing and printing costs by sending out solicitations to a fewer, but a more effective audience.

This measure will also help reduce the amount of waste generated in the printing process from start to finish.

Communicate with your Readers: Help Close the Loop

Encourage your readers to find out how to properly recycle the published piece when they are done with it.

Most office paper and magazines are able to be recycled on a large scale, depending on local recycling initiatives. Readers should be encouraged to check with their local recycling center to find out how to do so.

Polybags can be recycled with plastic grocery bags and dry cleaner protective bags.

Tell your readers the different initiatives your company has taken to publish the piece in an environmentally friendly format. Include the environmentally friendly printer specifications in your published materials.

Establishing good environmental practices in your organization can elevate your public relations.

What You Can Do In Your Office

Implement an office recycling policy.

Remember, just because a product is recyclable, it does not mean its being recycled. Encourage your office to implement an effective recycling program.

By discarding less waste you reduce waste hauling fees.

Paper and paperboard continue to make up 35-45% of material discarded in the waste stream. By implementing waste reduction and recycling efforts in your office, you can help divert paper, as well as plastics, glass, and other materials from landfills and waste incinerators.

Recycle your laser printer and copier toner cartridges.

Most toners from copiers, fax machines, and printers can now be recycled. Your supplier should be able to provide this service to you.

Using recycled toners and selling them back to your suppliers are ways your office can save money.

Implement energy saving techniques in your office.

Contact your local energy (gas or electric) utility for information on how to implement energy saving techniques within your office and office building. They will provide you with free information and technical assistance.

Simple measures such as tuning off lights, copiers, and computers at night can save a lot of energy and money in your office.

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Choosing a Printer: The Great Printers Project & More Questions for your Printer

Choose a Great Printer! (A program operating in Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin )

The Great Printers Project is a national partnership between the Council of Great Lakes Governors, the Printing Industries of America, and the Environmental Defense Fund. Its goal is to make pollution prevention a standard business practice of the Great Lakes states lithographic printing industry.

The project is a concerted effort to inform printers about the merits of integrating pollution prevention into shop operations in order to reduce the environmental impact. Its recommendations focus on enrolling print shops committed to furthering the Great Printer Principles: informing and influencing customer demands, simplifying and streamlining regulatory requirements, and improving access to technology and financial resources.

The Minnesota Great Printers Project is led by Citizens for a Better Environment, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, Minnesota Technical Assistance Program and the Printing Industry of Minnesota.

For more information on the Great Printers Project, please contact the representative in your state:

Illinois: Eva Aloia, Printing Industries of Illinois/Indiana: 312/580-3041.
Michigan: Nick Wagner, Printing Industries of Michigan: 810/354-9200.
Minnesota: Scott Schuler, Printing Industry of Minnesota: 612/379-6006.
Wisconsin: N. Niall Power, Printing Industries of Wisconsin: 414/785-9090.

Below are additional questions you can ask your printer to find out about the environmental impact of the production operations in the facility.

Printers may not change specific processes to suit a single buyer or print job, but your questions will encourage them to work towards innovative, environmentally sound printing practices. Keep in mind, not all of the options are appropriate or available for all printers.

Here are some questions to ask your printer about their printing production process and the facility management.

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The Blue Ribbon Task Force

The Blue Ribbon Task Force was formed to create these guidelines and to help educate others about environmentally preferable printing options.

The Blue Ribbon Task Force on Print Buyer Guidelines was designed to assist buyers in communicating with printers and paper vendors about producing printed materials with minimal environmental impacts, while taking into account cost, quality, and design considerations. The task force was facilitated by the Minnesota Environmental Initiative in cooperation with Business for Social Responsibility Upper Midwest Network, MN Magazine Publishers Association, and the Minnesota Great Printers Project. The project is funded by a grant from the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance.

These guidelines are unique in that they are written for and by buyers of print. Members of the Blue Ribbon Task Force include Jill Curran, Rivertown Trading Company; Pat Dye, Fingerhut Companies; Nancy Devine, Star Tribune; Anne Frisch, Minnesota Environmental Initiative; Christine Gray, Minnesota Monthly; Craig Neal, Heartland Institute; Colleen Riley, Colleen Riley Design; Dianne Talmage, Catholic Digest; Morris Woolery, The Ehlert Publishing Group. Several other representatives from the print and publishing industry, government, and environmental groups helped draft and comment on the guidelines including Tim Clark, Unisource; Ben Cooper, Printing Industries of America; Bumpy Bumpercar, Mouser Inc.; Jodi Dalvey, American Coating Technologies; Lisa Doerr, Citizens for a Better Environment; Lois Epstein, Environmental Defense Fund; Donna Peterson, MN Technical Assistance Program; Niall Power, Printing Industry of Wisconsin; Chris Rynish, Quad Graphics; Karen Weiblen, Kohl Madden Printing Corporation, and Liz Wessel, Citizens for a Better Environment.

For more information on the Blue Ribbon Task Force or the Print Buyer Guidelines, contact Minnesota Environmental Initiative, 219 North Second Street, Suite 201, Minneapolis, MN 55401.
Phone: 612/334-3388 Fax 612/334-3093
Ellen Kazary


All Contents Copyright 2000, MEI Inc., All Rights Reserved.