What materials are best and worst to use? There is no easy formula for sustainability but remember that you need to think about more than what something is made of. Sustainability is assessed on how much energy is used to create it, to use it, and then to dispose of it. This is called a material’s ‘embodied energy’.
Don’t be fooled by this seemingly green claim. Every paper and board - unless it’s coated in plastic - can be recycled! Look for recycled content or even better, post-consumer recycled content.
The more ink coverage, the harder to recycle. Challenge yourself to design for maximum impact while minimizing big areas of color.
Plastic laminated paper
Whatever good qualities paper has are easily eclipsed by encasing it in plastic. Unsustainable source, moderate energy used, and prevents recycling or even decomposing.
Conventional virgin fiber
Non-recycled; i.e. trees are cut down to make it. Forests are not necessarily well managed. The worst virgin fiber is from forests from far away, increasing transport energy and pollution.
FSC certified virgin fiber
Non-recycled; i.e. trees are cut down to make it. The Forest Stewardship Council tries to ensure that paper with FSC certification is from sustainably managed forests.
Contains some reclaimed material, but this can be from the paper manufacturer itself, not from consumers. Low energy used and easy to recycle.
Contains material which has reached the consumer, been used and then recycled. Just ‘recycled’ could simply mean it has offcuts collected by a paper maker at their factory.
Metal pigments give a certain shine but there is a big price to pay. The metals are an unsustainable, high energy source and create problems for recycling.
Contains metal which is a high-energy source material. It also causes whatever piece of print it is used on to become difficult to recycle. And besides, it usually looks tacky.
Traditionally most inks are petroleum based, though there is a big push to veggie-based inks. This means an unsustainable, high-energy source, though they do not prohibit recycling.
Fluorescent inks need to be specified as a “spot color” in addition to CMYK. Unfortunately fluorescents are usually petroleum based, so watch out.
These are mineral oil based and contain solvents. If you want a varnish it’s better to go with an aqueous (water-based) coating.
If you want an additional finish, go for something water-based like an aqueous coating.
UV inks are formulated to dry very quickly on press under UV lights. They are not solvent-based (good) but are not from sustainable sources.
Veggie/soy-based inks are rapidly overtaking traditional petroleum-based inks. However the rapid global expansion of the soy industry may bring its own problems. Watch this space.
Perfect bind (PUR hot melt)
PUR is polyurethane; a plastic-based glue. It only take moderate energy use, but because of the plastic content it can prohibit recycling of the paper portion of the piece.
Perfect bind (EVA hot melt)
EVA is ethylene vinyl acetate, a plastic-based glue. It only take moderate energy use, but because of the plastic content it can prohibit recycling of the paper portion of the piece.
Essentially stapling through the center fold of a series of nested folios. Avoids the need for plastic glue and uses little material. Does not inhibit recycling.
As a plant product, starch is a good natural source, takes minimal energy to use and allows the piece to be easily recycled.
Polymer of vinyl chloride, a.k.a. vinyl. Producing it creates toxic chemicals, and at the end of its lifetime it must be buried or burned. Burning it produces hydrochloric acid. Nasty stuff.
Has an inner core of polystyrene. Made from petroleum. Benzene - a known carcinogen - is used in its production. Technically recyclable, it takes a very, very long time to break down.
A strong synthetic material made from HDPE (high density polyethylene). Made from petroleum, but still relatively easy to recycle. See Tyvek in use in the Material Gallery.
A rigid, composite board made of environmentally safe, non-plastic materials; a good alternative to foamcore, and can be recycled. See Enviroboard in use in the Material Gallery.
A strong, paper-based board with minimum 20% recycled content; a good alternative to foamcore, and easily recycled. See Falconboard in use in the Material Gallery.
A durable, white, canvas-like fabric composed of 100% post-consumer recycled polyester from recycled plastic drinking bottles. See Act II fabric in use in the Material Gallery.