by Keaty Gross of the Green America Better Paper Project for the Paper Planet
Magazine paper uses similar resources to office, book or newsprint paper: wood fiber, water, energy, and a variety of minerals and chemicals. The distinguishing characteristic of magazine paper is the use of printer-applied coatings to prevent smudging and to provide a desirable finish. "Better papers" achieve a comparably low environmental impact through the use of recycled fiber or agricultural residue, low carbon energy sources, low/no impact coatings and chlorine alternatives such as oxygen delignification.
There are two environmental questions that should be factored into the printer-applied coating selection process: What is the environmental impact of the coating’s production/application? -and- How does the coating affect the magazine’s recyclability? The best option for the environment is no coating, but since that isn’t realistic for most newsstand publications, how can magazines choose the most responsible coating?
- The benefit of varnish is that it potentially has the lowest toxicity and is highly recyclable, but it may yellow over time. It comes in gloss, dull and satin, and can be tinted by adding pigment to the varnish. Because varnish is essentially ink without pigment, it requires its own printing unit on press.
- The benefit of aqueous is that it will not yellow over time, may emit fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than varnish and is more environmentally friendly than UV coating because it is water based; however, it does contain trace amounts of ammonia and costs nearly twice as much as varnish.
- The benefit of UV is that it provides greater protection and color stability than the other two varieties of coating, and because it is cured with light and not heat no solvents enter the atmosphere. Unfortunately, its durability and chemical resistance also make it the most difficult to recycle.
Until better coating options become available, the Better Paper Project encourages publishers to ask their printer about the environmental impact of their coatings, engage them in the selection process and employ creative problem solving to reduce coating use whenever possible. As in other aspects of publishing, it is important for publishers to work with their vendors to encourage continual environmental improvement during the printing process.
Note: This article deals exclusively with printer-applied coatings. Clay and latex coated papers are a related but separate topic.
- "Protective Paper Coatings and Environmental Impact" PDF, courtesy of Ecoprint
- International Paper Knowledge Center: Inks and Coatings
- Print Industry, Printing & Design Tips
- Energy Solutions Center: Paper Drying