The ink really does matter

When you think newspapers, it’s not paper but the stuff on it that usually comes to mind. But in this eco-friendly world even the ink matters.

Newspapers started researching soybean oil, otherwise known as vegetable oil, as a substitute for petroleum around 1987. It was a cost thing, but by 2004 about 95 percent of U.S. newspapers were printing using soy as the ink medium. It’s also a green thing.

One of the nasty problems with oil-based inks was their VOC nature. VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compound. They’re distributed when the printing rollers spin chemicals into the air. The environmental impact of airborne emissions were under scrutiny as they were with cars.

Studies found soybean oil-based inks had a reduction of airborne VOC’s by 65 percent to 85 percent.

Less ink mist, less waste. Less waste, less cost. Then what really sold the farm as a soy cash crop was soy inks have about 15 percent more spreadability. That meant ink absorption and newsprint were a good match. It also meant that the ink could be applied in thinner amounts. Thinner layers in turn means less ink and less is more when it comes to cost.

The University of Michigan determined soy was much easier removed than its petro predecessor. This helps the environment in multiple ways.

First, you are not going to use the same chemicals to clean the printing rollers that you would have to apply with petros. That’s less of a problem with what to do with that waste solution.

Soy inks, in their production process, created far less hazardous byproducts. Not to mention the environmental footprint regrowing a field of soy beans has versus the process of extracting oil from the ground.

Once we get down to the end of the line and the newspapers that are not recycled do end up in landfills, 80 percent of soy degrades in 25 days -- that compares with 16 percent for petros.

That degrading period helps if you’re being responsible and recycling your newspapers. It’s far easier to “clean up,” or remove, soy ink so you can reclaim that newsprint for future paper making.

In addition to all this, modern newspapers, including your hometown Herald, recover used ink, in all colors, mix it with fresh black ink and recycle the product in-house.

All of this isn’t to say it’s “all good.” The point is, how can we reduce our impact? Is this change LESS damaging than before? Does it create LESS of a problem rather than further compounding one?

We’ve still got issues with creating and producing a single crop -- soybeans -- which can lead to crop diseases, but looking at the aftermath of an oil field and all the problems associated with that, this is a viable alternative that goes unnoticed, even though it’s right under your eyes every day.

-- Ron Buckland is the Herald’s post press department maintenance coordinator and has worked at the paper since 1976.