Fact Sheet: Waste Reduction in the Commercial Printing Industry

The Virginia Waste Minimization Program
Vol. 1 Issue 2

A Fact Sheet from the Virginia Waste Management Program on waste reduction in the commercial printing industry.

Waste Reduction for the Commercial Printing Industry


The commercial printing industry generates hazardous waste as a result of its operations. The Virginia Department of Waste Management regulates the generation, treatment. storage, transport and disposal of hazardous waste throughout the state. The Department is committed to reducing hazardous waste generated to the greatest extent possible. As part of this effort, studies investigating alternative management strategies to reduce hazardous waste have been completed. This fact sheet introduces the hazardous waste audit study conducted specifically for the commercial printing industry. Many companies today have Incorporated these options into their overall operations and are saving money on hazardous waste management costs while protecting their workers and the environment.

Wastestreams Typical of the Commercial Printing Industry:

Waste Reduction Incentives

Hazardous waste reduction can be an effective, economic way to reduce hazardous waste management costs. In some instances, waste reduction may require some initial capital investment, but many companies have shown that even in the short term, they may quickly recover these 'up-front costs' when hazardous waste management and liability costs are reduced. Other advantages include:

Waste Reduction Requirements

Both state (Virginia Department of Waste Management Section 6.5.B. 1) and federal (Title 40 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 262, Subpart D) laws and regulations require that generators of hazardous waste file a biennial generator's report. Among other things, this report must include a description of the efforts undertaken, during the reporting period, to reduce the volume and toxicity of wastes generated.

The Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest requires that large quantity generators (those generating greater than 2,200 pounds of hazardous waste in a calendar year) certify that they 'have a program in place to reduce the volume and toxicity of waste generated' and that they have selected the "most practicable method of treatment, storage, disposal currently available...which minimizes the present and future threat to human health and the environment." Small quantity generators (those who generate greater than 220 pounds but less than 2.200 pounds per month of federally designated hazardous waste) must certify that they have made a 'good faith effort to minimize waste generation and have selected the best affordable waste management method available.'

Waste Reduction Alternatives

What can you do to reduce hazardous wastes at your shop? Start with good operating practices!

Management Commitment

An important aspect of any waste reduction program is management commitment. Commitment shows employees that managers place a high priority on waste reduction. For example, a conspicuously posted shop policy, signed by top management. that requires waste reduction will aid in making waste minimization a critical part of all day-to-day activities. All employees must be encouraged to participate in reducing wastes to the greatest extent possible.

Also, if an employee is placed in charge of identifying ways to reduce wastes, he or she must be given the cooperation, by both employees and management, necessary to implement changes in shop operations.

Employee Awareness

Hazardous waste reduction efforts should be emphasized to each employee, from the general manager to machinery operators.

Employee suggestions should be encouraged through a merit program or some other type of incentive.

Good Housekeeping

Linage Processing

Silver compounds are classified as hazardous wastes under state and federal law if liquid wastes exceed five milligrams per liter of silver at a pH of 5.0. If process baths are discharged into the sewer, a permit by the local sanitation department is usually required. Concentrations of silver-contaminated wastewater must be maintained below local limits established by each sewering agency.

Ways to Manage Silver

Eliminate it by using silver-free films. Some silverless products are vesicular, diazo and electrostatic films. Photopolymer films contain carbon black as a substitute for silver. Recover silver from fixing baths and have a commercial recycler pick it up. Purchase a silver recovery unit and recycle fixer on premises. Add ammonium thiosulfate to silver-contaminated baths to extend the allowable buildup of silver.

Process Baths

Plate Processing

Replace metal etching processes, with their associated hazardous chemical solutions and heavy metals, wherever possible.

Alternative plates include:

  1. Pre-sensitized lithographic - Some solutions resulting from these plates can be discharged to the industrial sewer with written authorization or permit from the sanitation district. Water based solutions are currently available and widely used. The plates can be sold to an aluminum recycler.

  2. Plastic or photopolymer - Generally these plates are processed with a water based solution containing little or no hazardous waste.

  3. Flexographic

  4. Electrostatic - Paper plates made directly from artwork are used on copier/duplicator presses and eliminate several process steps.

In addition, hot metal can be remelted or sold to a recycler.

Printing and Finishiin


Many clients would use less hazardous products if given the choice. provided that product quality is not compromised. Inform clients of specific inks that are recyclable or not hazardous and provide samples that illustrate finished products. Encourage clients to select these materials.

The composition of inks varies widely. Some inks contain chemicals that would be classified as hazardous; other chemicals do not. Inks frequently get their color from the metals or hazardous pigments they contain. Inks containing metals and/or those inks using a solvent carrier are often classified as hazardous. It is the responsibility of shop owners to determine whether the inks used in their operations are hazardous. For assistance in making this determination, review the container label and the MSDS or ask your ink distributor.

Most inks may be recycled: spent inks of different colors are often blended to make black ink. For smaller print shops, consider coordinating with larger plants or newspapers (ones that use rubber or oil based ink) to recycle ink. These businesses usually recycle their inks on-site or ship them off-site in bulk shipments. Also consider purchasing inks from a distributor who will take or buy back unused or spent inks.

Waste Reduction Alternatives for

Advantages of Water-Based Inks (flexographic and gravure processes)

Advantages of Ultraviolet Inks

Advantages of Electron Beam Drying (EB) (used on web presses)

Isopropyl Alcohol

Use a fountain solution that contains low concentrations of isopropyl alcohol (IPA) or one containing no IPA. IPA emissions can cause air pollution problems and may require the installation of pollution control equipment. Substitutes are available. Operation adjustments may be required to make low-IPA solutions work well, but the alternative cost of air pollution control equipment installation can make the effort economically worthwhile.

Waste Solvents

Rags become contaminated with ink and solvent. Depending on the solvent used, contaminated, non-saturated rags may not be considered hazardous wastes by the federal and state government if they are laundered and reused. However, contaminated rags to be disposed may be considered hazardous. These disposable rags must be stored separately from municipal trash and transported according to hazardous waste regulations.

Waste Lubricating Oils

Used lubricating oils should be analyzed to determine if they must be managed as hazardous waste.

(This Waste Reduction Fact Sheet was reprinted with permission from the California Department of Health Services, Toxic Substances Control Program, Alternative Technology Division. Modifications have been made to tailor this fact sheet for use in Virginia.)

This Waste Reduction Fact Sheet is provided as a service of the Virginia Waste Minimization Program, a technical assistance program of the Virginia Department of Waste Management.

For more information on opportunities to reduce waste contact:

Virginia Waste Minimization Program
11th Floor Monroe Building, 101 North 14th Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219
804-371-8716 or 1-800-552-2075
TDD 804-371-8737

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Last Updated: October 23, 1995