Why use soy inks?

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Commercial use of soy ink is increasing in the print sector. From its origins during the 1970s oil crisis as an affordable alternative to petroleum-based inks, it has become an example of a product that is more environmentally friendly, reduces waste from production products, processes and packaging and has had a positive effect on the bottom line.

why use soy inks?

What is soy ink?

Soy ink is created by cleaning, cutting and flaking soya beans and processing to extract soy oil. This oil undergoes a refining process and is then blended with pigments, resins and waxes.

Who uses soy inks?

Soy ink is used in offset lithographic printing on paper (used in printing newspapers) and may be used on corrugated packaging, on timber, leather, ceramic tiles, in making some tattoo inks and for screen printing.

Soy ink is now also used in digital toners for printers.

Are they environmentally friendly?

Soy ink is considered to be more environmentally friendly than traditional inks. The soybeans from which it is produced are a renewable resource. The product itself reduces hazardous air pollution arising from VOCs (volatile air compounds), the gases which are emitted into the air in the printing process, and which also occur when changing cleaners and solvents between printing runs.

Are there disadvantages in using soy ink vs regular ink?

Soy ink is slower to dry and therefore not ideal for printing glossy magazines, nor for use in ballpoint pens.

What are the other types of ink and why you should avoid them

The main inks for printing have traditionally been petroleum-based, also referred to as solvent-based. Concerns have been raised about heavy metals in inks: cadmium, hexavalent chromium, lead and mercury are all toxic. They are therefore considered hazardous waste.

How do you dispose of soy ink and the products it is on?

Soy ink is up to more than four times more degradable than standard ink and does not produce hazardous waste. The paper on which soy ink is used is normally readily recyclable.

Other types of inks available on the market

Plastisol inks have two main ingredients; PVC resin and ‘plasticizer’. Plastisol ink will not dry at normal temperatures but must be ‘cured’ at around 300 to 330 degrees Fahrenheit. Plastisol ink is favoured for screen printing and can be toxic, although non-toxic premium brands are available.

Water-based inks are considered to have a lower environmental impact than petroleum-based inks. Water-based inks are often used in textile printing but are not suitable for all types of printing.

Vegetable inks made from canola oil, linseed oil or rice also have a lower environmental impact. A great deal of water is required to grow rice, leading to criticism of its use as an element of ink. Some company websites also report that vegetable oils produce less vibrant colours.

An innovative algae-based ink has been developed in recent years that can be used for flexographic and letterpress printing.

What are the environmental impacts of soy ink?

The American Soybean Association provides a SoySeal to licensees. This specifies the percentage of soy oil content to be used with different types of ink. These range from 40% for newspaper ink to 6% for stencil duplicator ink. Soy ink is therefore not 100% biodegradable as it uses pigments and other additives that are also found in petroleum-based inks. However, it has a higher element of biodegradable ingredients than traditional inks.

When used for printing labels, soy inks use less ink than water-based inks.

Soy inks can also be reusable when mixing black inks with colour-based inks. The use of recyclable elements also minimises paper waste.

Its use in digital toners reduces a large amount of ink cartridge waste.

What are the environmental impacts of “the other inks’?

Normal ink cartridges are not biodegradable. They have an impact on air quality and health.

The disposal of petroleum-based cartridges produces VOC toxins, these are recognised as contributing to cancers and some birth defects.

Digital inks are usually solvent-based or water-based and so have different levels of environmental impact.

Some petroleum ink is not recyclable and therefore leads to paper waste. Concerns remain regarding hazardous waste arising from traditional print processes.

The changes in the print business outlined above are leading to reduced business waste which not only cut waste disposal costs but also the cost of complying with environmental legislation on waste. Minimising waste makes sense for business, the environment and ultimately for future generations.

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