Metallic Inks: Eco-Seal of Approval?

Metallic Seal of Approval

There is a lot of buzz floating around in the design world about which printing processes are eco-friendly and which are not. Designers are often faced with the tough decision of whether to enhance the tactile elements of a design with special processes, many of which are not environmentally friendly and can make pieces unrecyclable.

We had heard such things about metallic inks. So when our local rep from Appleton Coated visited us, we put her to task…

The verdict? According to Appleton, metallic inks are recyclable, but not all of the time. Here’s why:

Apparently there are two types of recycling: curbside and sorted. Curbside recycling is what most of us use in our daily routines. This downcycles paper-based materials into low grade things like packaging materials, tissues and towels. For this process, there is no de-inking. This essentially means that the success of the batch depends on how well the pieces were sorted. Metallics will in fact contaminate the batch, but it takes several contaminants to make the batch unusable. So while metallics aren’t completely unrecylable in curbside recycling, they are a factor that can cause batch contamination.

Sorted recycling is a more complex process and produces a higher quality product. Printers, publishers, envelope manufacturers and some some large corporations invest in sorted recycling. In this process, the recycled content is de-inked, removing all ink, toner, adhesives, etc. This creates a “sludge” that separates from the batch. According to Appleton, metallic inks do not present any issues in sorted recycling.

Unfortunately the bottom line is that metallic inks, are not the most eco-friendly choice. While they aren’t the worst offender, as designers we should consider using these with caution and understand the implications of the choice.