Printing industry and volatile organic compounds

Description of the Industry

The printing and publications industry plays a major role in the Canadian economy. It is impossible to pass a single day without coming into contact with products from this industry. Newspapers, books, flyers, wallpaper, plastic bags, food wrappers and pop cans are all products that will typically pass through a printer at some point in their lifecycle.

There are six major types of printing processes in Canada (lithographic, flexographic, gravure, letterpress, screen and digital). Though all are ultimately placing an ink or coating onto a surface, they are each unique in their technology.

The printing and publication industry is one of the principal stationary sources of volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from solvents in Canada. The main source of VOC emissions within a printing plant is the press-room where there are three main sources of VOCs:

  1. Ink - Many of the inks used in printing are solvent based. With solvent based inks the evaporation of the solvents (many of which are VOCs) acts to dry the ink to the substrate. The amount of solvent emitted from the drying ink varies from around 5% for a non-heatset lithographic process to 100% for flexographic on plastic or heatset lithographic
  2. Cleaning - At the end of print runs, presses must have excess inks removed from them to ensure the inks don't dry on the rollers and ink wells. Often the chemicals used for cleaning are high in solvents.
  3. Fountain solution - Fountain solution is used in lithographic printing to ensure that oil does not stick to the non-image area of the blanket. Traditionally isopropyl alcohol (IPA) is used to control the physical properties of the fountain solution (which is primarily water). The use of IPA has made the fountain solution the primary source of VOC emissions in lithographic facilities.

Other VOC sources within a printing and publication facility can include pre-press and the bindery. Pre-press is where printing plates are created for use during printing and the bindery is where materials are bound together to create a finished product.

The total Canadian VOC emissions from printing operations were estimated at approximately 26.5 kilotons (kT) in 2009.

Action Addressing VOCs in Printing Operations

Environmental Code of Practice for the Reduction of VOC from the Commercial/Industrial Printing Industry

The Environmental Code of Practice for the Reduction of VOC Emissions from the Commercial/Industrial Printing Industry was released in August 1999. The Code was developed by a multi-stakeholder working group made up of representatives from the federal, provincial and regional governments, the commercial and industrial printing industry and an environmental non-government organization. The Code focuses on the reduction of VOC emissions from the printing process and clean-up operations, the handling and storage of VOC containing materials, and the handling and disposal of wastes. The Code also contains design and operating performance targets for VOC emissions from commercial and industrial printing facilities,.

Path Forward

In June of 2010, Environment Canada published a discussion document on the proposed renewal of the Federal Agenda for the Reduction of VOCs from Consumer and Commercial Products. This discussion document identified several opportunities for the Government of Canada to reduce VOC emissions from consumer and commercial products by the year 2020. The “printing” sector was identified as a sector where opportunities for additional VOC emission reductions exist. Environment Canada is currently exploring what options are available to further reduce VOCs.

How Can I Stay Informed?

To receive the latest information about Environment Canada’s efforts on VOC emissions from the printing industry, subscribe to our mailing list.


Contact Information

Questions and inquiries can be directed to Environment Canada at:

Telephone: 888-391-3426 or 819-938-4483
Fax: 888-391-3695 or 819-938-4480

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