About the Flexographic Printing Project
DfE began working with the printing industry in 1992, when the Printing Industries of America (PIA) requested EPA's assistance in evaluating environmental claims for products. This effort ultimately grew into projects aimed at preventing pollution in three sectors of the industry: lithographic printing, screen printing, and flexographic printing. Each project addressed a different area of concern within the printing industry. For flexography, the project partners chose to focus on the types of inks used.
Flexography involves printing from a raised image on a printing plate made from either rubber or photopolymers with highly fluid, quick-drying inks. The ink is applied to the raised portion of the plate, and the image is transferred by the plate to a substrate (e.g., paper, film, or board). The inks used for flexography are liquid and contain solvents or water. Selection of inks is critical to meeting the quality and performance requirements for a wide variety of substrates with varying printing parameters.
The conventional inks used for flexography consist of solvents made of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can pose risks to human health and to the environment. For this reason, they are regulated as air pollutants and hazardous materials. The VOCs in conventional inks contribute to ozone pollution and can adversely affect air quality. These inks also can have potentially detrimental effects when disposed of improperly.
The DfE Flexographic Printing Partnership was a unique voluntary effort between the flexographic printing industry and EPA that sought to provide information about the advantages and disadvantages associated with solvent, waterborne, and UV-cured flexographic ink technologies. The project assessed the performance, costs, environmental and human health risks, and pollution prevention effects associated with these technologies. DfE's goal in working with flexographic printers was to help them make more informed choices now and in the future by easing the search for and evaluation of cleaner processes, products, and technologies.