Is the Royal Mail Right in Its Claims Against Digital Printing?

Inkjet and electroinks stop paper from being recycled



German Sacristan


The Royal Mail environmental guidance issued on January 4th 2022 encourages customers to be more “green” when mailing out  promotional, publishing (such as catalogs and magazines), and consumer photo printed products. In this guide, however, the Royal Mail claims that some digital printing technologies (such as inkjet and electroinks) might contaminate the deinking process, not allowing the paper to be recycled.


What Is Deinking?

Deinking is a process that some paper mills use to separate the ink from the paper so it can be reused. INGEDE is an organization based in Germany that tests this process in a lab using a simple, one-loop system called “Method 11” to determine which inks and substrates pass (or fail) the test. Besides Method 11, there are other, more modern deinking processes that allow some inks and substrates that are not approved by INGEDE to be deinked.


Beyond the INGEDE lab test (and apart from a rumored incident many years ago in Germany when some photobooks could not be deinked), we have never heard of a paper mill deinking scenario where digital printing technologies contaminated the paper recycling process.


The Real Amount of Non-Deinkable Materials Out There

Most commercial and publishing printed paper volumes are produced using offset and digital printing. After taking into consideration that offset and toner digital print technologies support the paper mills’ deinking and paper recycling processes, we are looking at an estimated less than 6% of inkjet and electroink printed materials mentioned by The Royal Mail. Additionally, from that very low percentage, there are inkjet technologies and substrates that are deinkable, even by the INGEDE standards, as well as other processes that can deink electroinks (as noted by HP). There must be truth to this, as the Royal Mail has updated their environmental guidance ink section, removing the HP elctroinks that were previously mentioned as being not permitted..


Therefore, in the real world for commercial and publishing printed paper volumes, the percentage of inks that might not be able to be removed are so insignificant that they should not contaminate the paper recycling process.




Keypoint Intelligence Opinion

The deinking INGEDE test standards were set many years ago for offset and gravure printing technologies. As printing technologies evolve to support and enhance print buyers’ communication needs, so should the deinking processes. We should stop the misleading and generic messages that digital printing might not allow papers to be recycled, as we risk that some uninformed consumers might stop recycling. At the same time, printing equipment manufacturers need to keep investing in making sure their inks can be removed from the paper during the recycling process.


Paper is one of the most recycled products in the world, and we need to work together to keep driving that task. The 2020 paper recycling rate came in at 65.7%, a consistently high rate, according to the American Forest & Paper Association. This also reinforces the unlikelihood that some digital printing technologies are contaminating the paper recycling process.


It is also worth mentioning that, even though not known by some, electronic communications have a larger environmental impact than paper/print. The contribution of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to greenhouse gas (GHG) emission in 2018 was about 1.5%. If trends continue, ICT will account for as much as 14% for the total global footprint by 2040,  in comparison, the combined pulp, paper, and print sector is one of the lowest industrial emitters at 0.8% of the world’s GHG emissions.


This is great news for the printing industry.


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