A Newquay-based screen printer has taken the initiative to spearhead a campaign to encourage the industry to cut out using plastisol inks. Here P&P editor Melanie Attlesey speaks to Chris Dart, the man behind the movement to find out more.
Down in sunny Cornwall is where ASP, the UK’s largest contract screen printer with Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) accreditation, is based.
Achieving this credential alone brings with it a whole host of eco and environmental stipulations. But if achieving GOTS status wasn’t difficult enough, the garment decorator is now fronting a social media campaign called COUP Campaign to encourage others within the industry to cut out using plastisol inks and make the switch to water-based products instead.
“Is your print plastic? Let’s hope not,” says Chris. At the moment the vast majority of printed T shirts for merchandise, retail and corporate workwear are produced using plastisol ink, which contains plastic and other harmful ingredients. This is the reality that Chris is trying to overturn, which is not going to be an easy hurdle to jump.
99% of the inks that ASP uses are now water-based, which Chris states elevates the business above other screen printers and provides them with a point of difference. The only reason the company hasn’t made the complete switch is to avoid wasting stock that is currently left on the shelf.
Chris admits that making the move to water-based ink is not an easy one, for in some ways the ink is more complex to work with than plastisol ink, but ultimately it is the right thing to do for the environment.
“Production time is ultimately slower when using water-based ink,” he explains. “A double hit is sometimes needed to drive the ink into the screens and the inks take longer to cure. Also, the base price can be more expensive, but when the prints created have a softer hand feel, then you can generally charge more to the customer because of the better quality print.”
Another point that may appear initially off putting to screen printers is that more wastage can occur because the shelf life for water-based inks is shorter. Chris says this problem can be easily overcome with improved housekeeping to prevent wastage. But a positive to the waste, if there is any, is that no PVC and phthalates are entering the water system or landfill. For ASP, any waste that is created is disposed of through a specialised recycling company.
As water-based inks typically take longer to cure, Chris states that a longer tunnel dryer is needed to ensure the water in the ink is completely evaporated, which may become an issue for screen printers with small print shops.
However, despite all of these seemingly negative points, there are distinct advantages in making the switch and this comes from understanding the components used in each ink. Water-based inks contain no chemicals or volatile solvents which make them very eco-friendly. Because of their makeup, no solvents are required to clean the screens down after use as the ink can be washed away with water. This not only benefits the environment, but also the screen printers themselves who no longer have to breathe in VOCs on a daily basis. By direct comparison, plastisol inks contain PVCs and phthalates which are harmful and damaging to the environment. In some cases it has been reported that upon entering the water system, phthalates have had detrimental biological effects on wildlife. PVC contains plastic microbeads which don’t break down when T shirts enter landfill.
“Given how damaging PVC and phthalates are to the environment, making the switch and cutting out using plastisol is the right thing to do. It’s in everybody’s interests,” says Chris. “This campaign is all about a regime change, getting the message to the end-user and raising general awareness.”
As well as making the switch to using water-based inks, ASP has also cut out using aerosol glues and instead uses a water-based spray glue to adhere shirts to pallets before printing. “Not only are we looking after the environment, but we also have the best interest of our staff at heart,” says Chris.
Consider the reach
So that’s the environment and staff covered, but what about the end-user? Fashion retailers, for example, are now beginning to insist that prints that hit the high street are produced using water-based inks. Not just because they are better for the environment, but because the prints produced no longer have a hard, plastic feel to them, which wearers prefer. Nike is one of the top global clothing brands that has banned the use of plastisol inks, having started to phase out the use of PVC as far back as 1998. So, if this is the market that screen printers are looking to target, then making the switch is hugely advised.
However, cutting out the use of plastic goes way beyond inks. It extends to packaging, swing tags, and many more aspects of the garment decoration industry. There is a lot more the industry as a whole could be doing to cut down on the use of the plastic.
To find out more about the COUP Campaign and how you can get involved search for ASP Garment Decorators on LinkedIn.