You may have noticed that I’m on a mission to be the world’s most eco-friendly letterpress printer. I’m not just talking about using some recycled paper here and there, a little soy ink, and a couple of CFLs. I’m not talking about greenwashing the hell out of my products just to make my clients feel better about themselves. I want to figure out the real and scientific effects I’m having on the environment, identify specific goals for becoming the most sustainable business possible, and educate my clients with the information I discover.
That said, I have to start from the realization that I create products that are not necessary for life. I don’t grow food, I don’t make clothes, and I certainly don’t build houses. I make really stylin’ invitations, business cards, announcements, recycled paper, and other goodies. If (when?) the world goes all Road Warrior, I don’t think people are going to be fussing about ink colors and paper coordination for invites to their next gasoline raiding party. When you start down the road of trying to be as eco-friendly as possible, you inevitably reach the conclusion that the ULTIMATE solution would be to not make new products at all. We should all stop driving cars, live in huts, eat from our own gardens, and stop our livestock from farting so much.
So sure, if you consider the extreme solution then I should just throw in the towel all together. However, until we all get mowhawks and road bikes, I maintain that art is a necessary part of culture and society. Creating beautiful things is part of what makes our lives interesting, and that doesn’t have to mean that we completely disregard our obligations to the health and safety of others and our planet. So starting from the point that art exists and isn’t going away anytime soon, I’m going to try and do it in the best way possible.
Now that I’ve got my philosophical / tree hugger issues out of the way – onward! You may remember my previous struggles with finding the ultimate in eco-friendly letterpress inks. Currently, I’ve settled with using a linseed oil based etching ink, which to the best of my knowledge is zero VOC, certified non-toxic, and contains no petroleum or other binders. I’ve requested the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets) for each of the colors I currently use, but so far have only seen one of them. Probably not that big of a deal, since what I’ve seen so far doesn’t shed a whole lot of light. I was hoping the sheets would provide a list of the exact ingredients/components, so I could do my own research on the potential environmental and health effects. I know that these inks have a high degree of pigment, and I also know that sometimes pigments are made of heavy metals. So far I have been unsuccessful in tracking down exactly what’s in these inks, and so I’m currently reaching out to all the science nerds I know to see if they have any idea what I can do. My vision is I’ll find some fancypants laboratory (like on CSI) where I can send my various items, and they’ll spin them around in some machine that will then produce nifty computer charts.
Here are my eco goals regarding letterpress inks:
1. Find fancypants laboratory filled with very sciencey looking people in white coats to do some analytical chemistry on my inks.
2. From these results, find fancypants environmental people to explain what potential effects these inks could have on the environment and the health of people, plants, and animals.
3. Find fancypants ecology people to do experiments with my printed letterpress items, and see what happens when they biodegrade and/or compost.
4. Figure out what the best way is for me to clean and reuse shop rags saturated with letterpress inks. Does it make sense to have them washed? What happens to the waste water, and how much energy does this use? Can I have them recycled? Can I have them composted?
5. Speaking of rags, I need to find some better ones that aren’t made of cotton and bleached. I’m almost out of my current supply, so some research in this area is pending.
Expect science nerd updates, specifics on lab coats, heavy metal (PRIEST!!), and worm poop.