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printech, September, 2000
Re: UV Inks and Biodegradability


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From:GaryJGATF(gjonesprinting@aol.com)
Date:Wed, 20 Sep 2000 14:48:29 EDT


Brigette: You question on biodegradability is a good one in that it points outs some of the common questions on the subject. To the best of my knowledge, I am not aware of any studies conducted on specifically on the biodegradability of UV printed matter. In fact, I am not aware of any studies on the subject of biodegradability of any printed matter. One of the more challenging aspects associated with answering biodegradable types of questions is the context in which the materials is to be evaluated. Biodegradable is one of most misused and overused terms associated with environmental claims. In order for a material to biodegrade, it must be exposed to the proper conditions. By its very definition, biodegradable means that a material will be broken down by into innocuous products by the action of living things, typically microorganisms. In order for a material to actually biodegrade, it must be exposed to bacteria, light, and water. In the case of aerobic bacteria, which are the most common ones, air (i.e., oxygen) is also needed. Therefore, the question of biodegradability of printed matter needs to be answered in the context in which it is asked. If we consider the fate of printed matter, the two most common ones are landfilling and recycling. Recycling is defined in its broadest context which means it is used to make more paper, board, wall board, insulation, and other uses such as in the case of newspaper, animal bedding. Printed matter that is landfilled does not biodegrade to any appreciable degree. This is due to the fact that modern day landfills are designed to exclude air, light, and minimize water exposure. Landfills should be viewed as nothing but long term storage of waste material. This was proven by the work conducted by William Rathjee at the University of Arizona, who excavated modern landfills and was able to date the layers through finding intact newspapers. Interesting enough he also found that many food products did not degrade. He found very little evidence that any biodegradation was occurring in a landfill. While this does not answer your question directly, it may help you frame the issue for discussion. In other words if the printed matter is to be recycled, then biodegradability is not a concern. If the printed matter is to be landfilled, then biodegradation will not occur. If the printed matter were to be composted, then a definitive answer cannot be provided. However, if we were to apply logic (this always becomes dangerous), you could safely conclude that under the correct circumstances, the substrate (which is composed principally of cellulose) would be biodegradable. The fillers, additives, coatings, whitening agents, ink, and other materials may or may not be biodegradable, but since they make up such a small fraction of the entire printed piece, their fate should have little bearing on the overall biodegradability of the printed matter. However, without actual studies on the subject, it is difficult to provide an answer the question. Gary Jones Graphic Arts Technical Foundation 200 Deer Run Road Sewickley, PA 15143 412/741-6860 x608 - Phone 412/741-2311 - Fax



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