We generate quite a bit of waste and pollution, but we're trying!

The Green Scene's Getting Better

It's not totally breaking news that the garment-decorating industries may not be one of the greenest out there. Amongst the harsh chemicals, countless containers, boxes and shipping material, the industry generates quite a bit of waste and pollution.

But that doesn't mean we're not trying. Programs have been put in place to help inform. Innovations are taking place to help reduce the negative effect of inks, dyes and cleaners. And, as a community, we work to come together. Through education, training, product swaps and a general shift in mentality, we can all help reduce the footprint we produce.

Wise up

It may be cliche that knowledge is power, but that power leads to less health and safety violations. Beyond keeping the man off your back, proper training of employees leads to a happy, healthy work environment and a greener shop.

Suppliers, distributors and manufacturers are required to supply Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) which contain information on the proper use and care of products such as inks and cleaners. Beyond this, the best place to start, say Ryonet's Ryan Moor and TJ Stepper, is with big government agencies like the Occupational Safety Hazard Association (OSHA, www.osha.gov/dte/index.html) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC, www.cpsc.gov) which have up-to-date information on hazmat training and safety regulations. However, many resources can also be found out your shop's backdoor. Local municipalities can supply the specific state, county or city information that the large national organizations can't, says Dave Julo, Nazdar.

Among the biggest concerns for the decorated apparel industry is the disposal of chemicals, says Brandon Granberry, Graphic Solutions Group (GSG). Keeping the toxins out of the water supply is the foremost issue here. Proper filtration systems that help to keep solids and contaminants out are a necessity in shop. The water safety commission can offer further insight on what chemicals are drain safe and how to properly dispose of them.

To ensure wellbeing, train new and old employees on all proper shop practices. Alan Howe, Tech Support SPS, suggests putting the MSDS sheets in a binder in an easily-accessible and well-known location. A lack of training on this subject is one of the first fails a shop sees during an inspection, he says. Help beat the statistics by outlining the hazardous materials with which employees may come into contact, where safety wear is located and the set procedures.

Air freight leaves a large carbon footprint and can undo some of the good of green products. Try to plan inventory and shipments ahead of time to avoid air travel. (Image courtesy Aurum Organic Klothing)

Waste not

Once up-to-date with compliance and following procedures, the next issue to address is the current status-quo. Inefficient processes and use of resources are a huge drain on not only time and money, but also energy.

"Energy is the biggest draw on a screen print shop," says Kevin Camisa, Chouinard and Aurum Organic Klothing. Between automatic presses, flash cure systems and dryers, the machines pull a lot of oftentimes unnecessary energy. The most obvious solution to this is new equipment.

"It's amazing how inefficient an older press or dryer is compared to a new one," exclaims Moor. Although these big purchases are a cash drain, they can save on cost, time and, in some cases, entire processes.

But it's not always about throwing money at an issue for a quick fix; a lot of the problem lies in the workflow. Something as simple as keeping the dryer off in the morning if it won't be used until the afternoon is one of the quickest, and cheapest, ways to cut down on energy output, says Granberry. Julo additionally suggests that cutting back screen exposure times by 45 seconds could result in an 18 percent savings in energy reduction.

Waste, unfortunately can also occur when the lights are off and the shop is closed for production. "We use hot water during the week, but do we need the hot water throughout the whole weekend?" questions Camisa. Small measures, such as turning down the water heater and thermostat during off hours, can often add up to a huge energy and resource savings.

In the case of product overuseage, inks, sprays and prepackaged chemicals are among the biggest wastes in shops. Aerosol spray adhesive, for example, not only emits VOCs, but a considerable amount of overspray.

To combat this, Moor and Stepper suggest a water-based platen adhesive, not found in a can. Not only can it wash off with warm water, the amount used each time can also be monitored, eliminating excess waste and tacky residue left on the surrounding area and machine.

We're also reminded here that many shops tend to go overboard with product like screen cleaners, degreasers and the like. In this case, Howe makes the point that, "You can always add more, you can't always take it off." He continues that many products should never be bought in ready-to-use form. Concentrates are available in most of the common chemicals, which allows for less product application per use and fewer purchases of the chemicals throughout the year.

Proper storage, then, is also a factor to consider when combating waste. "A lot of these eco-friendly inks are water-based and dry if you don't get them back into the bucket and get the cover closed," says Camisa. Train employees to properly handle materials and use them in the intended manner, and the eco products can often serve as a cost-saver.

To help reduce overall waste, there is no better plan than recycling. From cardboard boxes to the buckets paints come in, a good portion of the material in shop can be recycled. To get started, Granberry says to look at the Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA, www.epa.gov) website which offers information on recycling, waste removal and hazardous materials programs available by zip code.

One small step‚ The biggest factor that holds many shops back from taking the plunge into the green is the cost. However, small steps and smart planning can help alleviate these concerns. In one example, Stepper encourages to look at the bigger picture. "Look at how much money new equipment will save you in time and energy," he offers.

Also note that many greener practices really don't rely on money at all. They instead require action. Moore and Stepper suggest reusing film and T-shirts by ganging-up images for pre-press printouts. They suggest placing prints on the upper half of a sheet of film and then flipping it over to print the next image.

In another suggestion, make the most of T-shirt testing by using misprints for setup. Turn the garment inside out to take up all available real estate, and, when completely saturated with tests, shirts can then be cut up to be used as rags, says Howe. "That's part of sustainability."
Resistance is another typical factor encountered when making the switch, as most of the greener products have slightly different results and processes compared to the standard materials. This should never be an argument, though, says Howe. "Instead of saying it doesn't do this, ask what does it do?"

Of course, there's the other end of the spectrum too, where Camisa says shops can get overzealous and want to change over completely to green product. "I think you carefully use and carefully monitor the use of those older inks," he suggests as an alternative. "Throwing them all away and starting anew just puts a lot of junk in the trash." He also stresses the fact that cured plastisol ink is better on a cured shirt, than thrown in a landfill, uncured.

No matter how large or small the action, changes made to procedures and practices help to generate green and undo our heavy footprint.