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From eco-paper to algae ink, how to achieve sustainable print

Printing goes green

Last year we wrote about why we believe print remains a valuable tool in marketing. We’re still big believers in this, and as conscious consumers and businesses increasingly look for eco-friendly practices, we’ve taken a deeper dive into the sustainable side of printing and how it can be achieved.

Print can be perceived as wasteful and damaging to the environment - it requires energy, paper and ink. And if you’re going for more complex finishing, it can involve spot UV, foiling and many other processes which can turn an easily-recyclable product into something much harder to process, thanks to plastic coatings. There are, however, many ways the print world has adapted to becoming more eco-friendly…

Recycled paper

Choosing recycled paper over virgin paper seems like the easy, most eco-friendly choice, but it’s not quite as simple as that – some papers claim to be recycled, but will only contain a minimal amount of recycled pulp. To be sure where you stand, choose a certified paper.

The industry standard is FSC Recycled Paper which is certified as made from 100% recycled paper. Other paper mills are pushing forward with alternative materials to wood pulp -  Tree Free by Favini is made from 25% cotton linters and 75% bamboo, and is a high quality paper, which is recyclable, biodegradable and made using EKOenergy from Favini’s own hydro-electric power station. Gmund Hamf is a hemp paper – hemp is a fast growing and renewable alternative to wood, as well as being the original paper choice of humans over 2000 years ago!


Foiling is a great method for creating beautiful, luxury print pieces. From wedding invites to property brochures, foil can take a piece to the next level when paired with the right design, paper and finishes.

Some people steer clear of the technique though, as there’s a misconception that foiling makes paper harder to recycle. Actually, as the metallic foil using in printing is so fine (the weight of the foil is usually less than the ink itself!), it dissipates in the re-pulping process.

Foilco are one of the industry leaders in hot stamping foil, and are leading the charge with their environmental impact, particularly with their Zero Foil 2 Landfill initiative

“The thin polyester film used as a carrier for the hot stamping foil has a high calorific value. We, therefore, convert our waste to solid recovered fuel (SRF) to be used in the cement industry. This is used as a replacement for fossil fuels such as coal. 12 tonnes of the polyester film replaces 10 tonnes of fossil fuel.”

On top of this, their foils are both compostable and biodegradable.


Ink has often been the hardest part of the printing process to turn green. Traditional printing inks are petroleum or plastic based, which are harmful to environment. But these days there are plenty of eco-friendly inks available, that use plant based ingredients.

Soy-based ink is a great alternative, and some say it produces brighter colours than the more traditional inks – newspapers have been using soy-based ink since the 1970s.

However, although the inks now have a sustainable carrier, the pigments are still made using carbon. LivingInk are providing a solution to this – using a byproduct of algae.

Algae grows fast, absorbs CO2 and produces oxygen, making it a superb alternative to carbon. Currently, algae ink is only available in black as it is only a recently discovered alternative, but it’s only a matter of time until we have the whole spectrum.

Carbon balancing vs carbon neutrality

When dealing with a physical product, it’s difficult to be completely green. Solutions like carbon balancing can help by measuring a business’s carbon footprint and then offsetting it, often using carbon-capture solutions like tree planting.

Carbon neutrality couples offsetting with a more holistic approach, looking at ways to reduce emissions in the first place.

For example, staff walking or cycling to work instead of driving, having client meetings over a video call instead of in person, and switching to renewable energy suppliers to run operations will all lower your footprint. Businesses like CarbonQuota are able to help companies reduce their footprint, using a scientific and data driven approach.

There’s a real drive for change and sustainability within the print industry, which is fantastic to see. Our friends at SBS Printing have been making great steps towards this, which you can find out more about here. It’s comforting to know that there are ways we can still produce beautiful, meaningful printed pieces whilst simultaneously caring about our impact on the environment.

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