As a natural resource petroleum is non-renewable. It has to be drilled from the earth and then refined before becoming printer ink. It is toxic and flammable and when used in ink, as it dries gives off volatile organic compounds or VOC’s.
So what is an environmentally friendly replacement?
In the late 1970s, due to the rising price of oil, different ways of manufacturing ink were investigated by the Newspaper Association of America. After testing different vegetable oils researches came up with an answer, Soybean Oil.
As opposed to petroleum based ink soy ink is more environmentally friendly, produces more accurate colours and makes paper recycling simpler, as soy ink is easier to wash out.
But it does have disadvantages…
Soy Ink is a lot more expensive than petroleum based inks, but it lasts longer, soy ink covers approximately 15% more reducing the quantity of ink used on a page.
Soy based ink takes longer to dry than traditional printer ink which cause problems when printing on to glossy paper rather than matt paper which is more porous.
Although Soybean oil is edible, soy ink isn’t, or is it completely biodegradable. The pigments and other additives, the same as those used in traditional printer ink, are mixed with the oil.
So what other ‘green’ options are there?
Another environmentally friendly ink is a Linseed based ink. Another vegetable oil based ink which produces the same high quality prints as soy based ink, as claimed by some printers, is fully biodegradable. Linseed based ink is not currently used as widely as soy ink.
One final note on Soy Ink
In the 1980’s the American Soybean Association (ASA) stated that their requirements for the use of the Soy Ink seal of approval on printing ink was that at least 20% should be soy oil, the remainder can be whatever the manufacturer requires, petroleum or its by-products.
So, is soy ink as green as it could be?