Environmental management in lithographic printing

Sandra Rothenberg
Rafael Toribio
Monica Becker

Printing Industry Center (CIAS)


With approximately 62,355 firms and sales of $210 billion annually, the printing industry is a significant contributor to the overall U.S. economy. The printing industry is also an important environmental actor in several major areas, such as use of paper (about 8 percent of all the wood cut down worldwide is used for paper production, much of which is used in printing), use of hazardous materials in printing inks, and production of volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from cleaning solvents used in the printing process. Regulatory standards and social pressures are requiring printing firms to reduce their use of resources and emissions of "hazardous and other substances. Doing this can be costly. In 1994, for example, the printing and publishing industry reported spending over $57 million on pollution control equipment alone (United States Census Bureau). Many industry and government agree that preventing pollution tends to be more efficient, from an economic and environmental perspective, than controlling it after the fact. Pollution prevention is accomplished through changes in production, operation, and raw materials use, in contrast so pollution control, which is accomplished by the adoption of emissions-abatement or waste treatment technologies. Indeed, many lithographic printing firms have achieved significant reductions in emissions fountain solutions, solvent recovery and reuse, non- or low-VOC ink, and non- or low-VOC blanket and roller washes are but a few examples of the kinds of process changes implemented by this industry that have led to significant environmental improvements. While many lithographic printers, and their suppliers, have done a great deal to reduce the environmental impact of their operations, the call for further reductions has not dissipated. Printing firms continue to face the challenge of meeting or exceeding environmental requirements while straying competitive. The overall objective of this research effort is to provide insight into these challenges, the way in which firms have succeeded in meeting them, and impediments that have caused some firms to be less successful. This monograph reviews several key aspects of environmental management in the lithographic printing industry and forms the foundation for future research. After a very brief description of the lithographic printing industry, the monograph presents a summary of the major environmental issues facing the industry today. Second, is presents a synopsis of relevant environmental regulations. Third, the paper focuses on the pollution prevention techniques that have been employed by the industry to reduce the emissions of VOCs. VOC reduction has been a prime regulatory target for this industry and has been the focus of much pollution prevention activity. The paper reviews both general information on techniques for reducing VOCs -- through process change -- as well as a tabularized summary of 15 case studies of printing firms that were successful in reducing their environmental loadings through pollution prevention. Fourth, the monograph contains a review of a number of technical assistance and regulatory reform programs aimed at facilitating pollution prevention in the printing industry. The concluding section summarizes our proposed research agenda for the coming year.