Laurel Brunner: The Recyclability of Everything

recycle-symbol-iso-circular-sign-is-1289We have been much occupied of late with a project to ensure that printed matter can be effectively recycled. It has to be said that standards work, and this work in particular, can be tedious beyond words. Other so very much more tempting options beckon. There’s the temptation to straighten ones speaker wires or rearrange the cutlery draw in age order, to name but two. It requires a will of iron to resist such urges.

We are not alone in working on documents that are an aid to recycling, though we may be alone in finding this work so deeply uncompelling. The only hope is that awareness of the value of recycling is rising around the world, not least because one man’s (or woman’s) waste is another man’s (or woman’s), raw material. Within printing we have all manner of juicy controversy surrounding the deinkability of digitally printed matter which influences its recyclability. This basically comes down to the fact that if the print isn’t deinked using modern deinking technology, it might pollute the pulp used to create new papers. Obviously this is not good, but isn’t reluctance to invest in modern deinking technologies worse? The problem persists elsewhere, with other industries facing equivalent problems, which is where ISO/TR 17098:2013 comes in.

This Technical Report (TR) is a comprehensive overview of materials and substances that can wreck or otherwise impede a recycling process. It covers the “materials, combinations of materials, or designs of packaging that may create problems in collecting and sorting before material recycling; substances or materials that have the potential to create problems in the recycling process; and the presence of substances or materials that may negatively influence the quality of the recycled material.

The list includes materials that influence the quality of packaging products made from recyclate and for which it is unlikely that technical solutions can be expected any time soon. But there is a problem with relying on a list like this. Different regions have different recycling operations and it is virtually impossible to keep track of all technology developments everywhere. And packaging materials are very often mixed up which can make it hard to produce new packaging materials that are reliably fit for purpose.

Sustainability depends on understanding and controlling environmental impacts, so business owners need to keep up with both international legislation and technological advances. It’s important to quantify product requirements and to design products so that their components can be recycled. In addition we need much more sophisticated and consistent sorting routines, especially across large geographies, where recycling policies can vary from town to town. Investment into such organisation will help cut negative environmental impacts and provide the basis of transparent supply chains for recycling and raw material quality control. It’s a long and slow road, and it’s work that must be done, no matter how numb and bludgeoned it leaves the little grey cells.

Laurel Brunner



This blog has been made possible by: Agfa Graphics (, Digital Dots (, drupa (, EFI (, Fespa (, Heidelberg (, Kodak (, Mondi (, Pragati Offset (, Ricoh (, Shimizu Printing (, Splash PR (, Unity Publishing ( and Xeikon ( is the Dutch media partner of Verdrigris, a non-profit initiative which aims to realistically chart the real footprint of printing and which helps companies and organisations to lower that footprint. More information about Verdrigris can be found via this link.

Rob van den Braak

Printer’s devil (1964), phototypesetter, offsetprinter, teacher of graphic techniques, salesmanager, productmanager, trade journalist, founder of BlokBoek e-zine (2011). But above all husband, father, friend and lover of life in southern Spain (since 2010).

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