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The Little Things Printers Can Do to Become More Sustainable Pt.1

by Nathan Swinson-Bullough

Picture of a plant

At Imageco, looking for new and innovative ways to make our practices more sustainable is at the core of what we do, but we don’t know everything. We believe that building a greener print industry requires collaboration and knowledge sharing. So, we have searched high and low to find people with a similar ethos to us who want to help educate and inspire others in our industry. Within our search we came across Denise Kirby, founder of Kirbyco, a New Zealand based supplier of eco-friendly PVC-free, recyclable, and sustainable print media solutions.

Nathan spoke to Denise on what she feels are the main little ways in which printers can become more sustainable! There was so much juicy advice that we’ve had to split the interview over two blogs, so here is part one….

So, Denise, you’re based on the opposite side of the world to us, we know that in the United Kingdom the average CO2 emissions per capita is 4.66 metric tonnes. What’s the situation like down under?

The average global GHG emissions per person per year is 4.7 metric tons. Australia has one of the highest GHG emissions per capita at almost 23.5 tons. New Zealand is 16.9. The main contributors being energy (coal in AU) and agriculture (methane in NZ). New Zealand has pledged a 50% reduction of emissions by 2030. Australia has a reduction target of 26 to 28% by 2030 which it predicts it will exceed as well as being net zero by 2050.

Those are some impressive targets, great to see the countries really committing to the cause. On to us printers specifically, where do you think the industry stands in relevance to global warming?

As an industry we are certainly not the worst offenders when it comes to the environment, however slowing the ecological impact requires a collective effort. We do use a lot of plastic (fossil fuel/waste) and contribute to growing CO2 levels compared to back in the day when it was just brushes and bicycles. So, I think the main question is, what steps can the print industry take in order to reduce CO2 emissions without compromising the commercial reality or quality of work?

You took the words right out of my mouth. Let’s start with materials and design. What do you think the main ways people can reduce their impact in this area are?

Our industry uses a lot of plastic, mainly PVC. When people think about plastic, the environmental issue that springs to mind is the impact of waste and its enduring durability.  Largely overlooked is the carbon footprint created by making plastic in the first place.

Plastics are made from oil and gas and the energy needed to produce them is very intensive. Some plastics create more of a burden than others and unfortunately PVC is one of the most carbon intensive plastics to make.

When looking for alternative products, it’s worth considering the whole lifecycle of the product from cradle to grave to get a true appreciation for its carbon impact. You may end up choosing a product that appears to have a lower carbon footprint but creates more carbon during its service life or when it is disposed of end of life. For paper, look for environmental certifications such as FSC and PESC to ensure responsible sourcing.

For design, consider and how materials can be used to minimise waste. Displays can be reused by changing the graphics and reusing the framework. Substrates can be refurbished with a new print rather than complete replacement.

Fully agree, we developed a little guide one how people could sustainably rotate festive POS last year, it can be very wasteful otherwise with a large number of props being thrown away after one use. We have a huge amount of sustainable options for materials in our portfolio and it’s made the world of difference. 

This area leads us nicely to chat about recycling, as ensuring the materials you use are recyclable is obviously a hugely important way to improve your footprint.

Recycling has significant value in reducing GHG. While recycling uses energy, it does so in far less quantities than sourcing and manufacturing with raw materials.

Recycling also means less waste in landfills. Some materials, like paper, create methane when they decompose in anaerobic environments (environments without air). Methane is more efficient at trapping heat and therefore far more potent than CO2.

Looking for materials that can readily be recycled locally is a great place to start becoming more sustainable.

That’s actually a great point to make, focus on what local recycling is capable of is so important as it’s easy to forget that different regions have different allowances. 


Keep your eyes peeled for part two of Nathans interview with Denise where the two will be sharing more advice surrounding transportation, end of life, carbon offsetting and industry mindset.

Imageco is dedicated to building an eco-friendlier future for the print industry through collaborative knowledge sharing. To find out more advice on how you can become greener check out our sustainability blogs on our news page.