The local “natural” foods market encourages patrons to recycle with clearly-marked receptacles in strategically-placed locations. The wall above select stations even indicates what’s compostable, recyclable and trash, with common disposables glued directly to said wall in respective columns.
And in front of all this, the average person turns red as he hopelessly holds remnants and containers from lunch, his items patently absent from the 3D visual aid. Because it’s been years since this poor recycling rookie has played “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things does not belong,” he trashes it all and moves on. Why? Because recycling ain’t that easy.
Tom Davenport, CEO and founder of Motion Company, also discovered this at his textile screen-printing shop, admitting that there’s more to it than the soda-can recycling bin in the garage.
“It sounds ridiculous to say that you would need help setting up a recycling program, but it actually was very helpful and we learned a lot,” he says of his local municipality’s assistance. “We called the city of West Sacramento’s refuse and recycling department and they came in and showed us where to put proper recycling receptacles in every department of the facility.”
Because his Motion Company frequently serves the retail industry, Davenport is required to do a lot of repackaging and says that even broken down, boxes tend to consume a room.
“The city set us up with an oversized exterior recycling bin for corrugated boxes and also assists with ongoing in-house training,” he remarks. “We typically have a lunch meeting with our staff and they train on which materials are, and more importantly, are not recyclable. They even used the example during one pizza lunch meeting—cardboard pizza boxes are not recyclable because they’re contaminated with pizza oils, so it’s actually pretty interesting.”
In addition to this education, the trainers leave behind literature and other materials on recycling benefits and waste-reduction tips; all of this for four years at absolutely no charge to the company.
“Maybe it’s a little bit different because we’re in California, but I’m sure you’d find in most areas that, if you work with the city, they would be willing to do something like that at minimal or no charge,” Davenport says.
Another important point he learned is that recycling is a privilege, not a right. “A private industry owns the recycling plant, and it needs to be profitable for private industry to continue their operation,” he reports. “So if the cost of sorting through the materials is too high, it’s not profitable, the plant’s going to shut down and we’re not going to have a recycling program.”
Considering that, small efforts—say, removing the cap from a plastic soda bottle so it compresses more easily—become increasingly important.
A process preferred
Whether full-color, halftone, distressed, antiqued metal, water-based or any modern/retail-styled embellishment is on order, Motion Company specializes in technique printing and does so with computer-to-screen (CTS) technology. Prior to CTS, a thermal image setter was in use, the only consumable of which was the polyester-based film it used.
“We weren’t using any really harsh, nasty chemicals, but we were generating thousands of yards of non-recyclable film on an annual basis, and all of that film goes right into the trash,” explains Davenport. “With CTS technology, the positive is created with a water-soluble wax.”
In this process, the wax acts much like the ink or toner of a traditional film positive but is ink-jetted directly onto the emulsion-coated screen’s surface. “Instead of using a film we’re using an opaque wax. Thousands of yards of film turned into twelve liters of water-soluble drain-safe wax on an annual basis.”
Practically speaking, the wax also saves tremendous amounts of money, from more than $1,000 per month on film to approximately $250 on wax. Eco-consciously, the savings are much greater.
After receiving the wax, the screen gets exposed and developed as it normally would with water. “You spray out the uncured emulsion, which is, again, a drain-safe chemical,” he states. “Everything goes through our filtration system underneath the drain before it goes into the waste-water system.”
Looking to improve the screen-printing process even more, Davenport is involved in a project to develop next generation water-based inks that behave more like traditional plastisol to remove some of fear factor practitioners possess.
“We’ve had fantastic results,” he says of his testing to date, “and as far as the eco-friendly characteristics, the first two ingredients are PVC and phthalate free.”
The company works with an ink manufacturer and hopes that cooperative inks will lead to increased industry usage. “Most textile screen printers are in a position where they offer water-based printing somewhat reluctantly, given they’re having to up-charge because it’s so difficult to work with,” he states. “As the inks become more stable, easier to work with and easier to stock, their use will become more common at no additional charge to the customer. So that’s really our goal in implementing these next-generation water-based inks into our system.”
Davenport acknowledges that switching to a new ink system is a big deal, saying so from experience: “We’ve recently switched over to a completely phthalate-free ink-mixing system,” he reports.
Although the infant-wear stipulations from last year’s Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act involve a very limited and easily avoidable portion of his business, he felt it necessary to make the transition.
“We’ve known that was coming for some time, had requests by certain customers and felt it was just a good time to switch,” he remarks. “It’s one thing if you’ve got a small handful of customers requesting it, but eventually everybody will be. So we figured it’s better to be proactive and switch over right now.”
Roughly $10,000 worth of new ink later, the Motion Company started building back its ink inventory…with unknown yet steep costs to come.
Leading by example
Calling the ink swap “expensive but worthwhile,” Davenport mentions a few more eco-friendly measures that are worthwhile and worth money.
“For me, more than it being strictly a moral concern, it’s a common-sense concern,” he asserts. “It just doesn’t make sense to be wasteful. It doesn’t make sense to improperly dispose of waste created during the screen-printing process, and it takes very little effort and expense to reduce waste and to run a clean operation. In a lot of cases we’ve actually found we end up saving money by reducing waste and consumables,” he goes on. “I think it’s more inviting to the industry as a whole to really look at this from a common-sense standpoint rather than debating the moral merits of being environmentally conscious. People get turned off to it.”
Davenport’s first conviction is proper ink disposal: “You’d be blown away by how much ink goes directly into the trash which goes straight into the landfill. Plastisol inks are leachable compounds.”
While it costs some money to have inks hauled away now, it saves strict fines later and pays off with peace-of-mind ultimately. “Obviously, there’s no debate that if you have a leachable material that does not turn solid unless heated up to a certain temperature, it can’t be going into a landfill.”
A 55-gallon drum collects any ink in his facility that cannot be reused, and once a month, Safety Kleen removes the drum, properly disposes its contents and delivers an empty one. “Whether we fill it up halfway or all the way, they pull it out and bill us by weight. It’s really not that expensive.”
As far as what does go down the drain, he recommends a simple and inexpensive filtration system, many of which are available for less than $1,000. Replacement filters add fewer than $50 per month and keep any solids from going down the drain. “As long as you’re using drain-safe chemicals and you check with the municipality, you should be fine,” Davenport advises.
Recycling, he reiterates, is obvious and something to which not one of his employees has ever objected. The large, aforementioned recycling container outside his shop is provided free of charge, an upgrade that enabled the company to downsize its waste container for money savings all around.
A final must-do in his opinion is reducing aerosols like spray-tack platen adhesive. Davenport opts for a water-based printing adhesive that goes on once or twice and lasts throughout the day.
“Our printers love it because they’re not covered in spray tack at the end of the day,” he remarks, asking people to imagine the air if every shirt decorated—in his case, two million plus per year—got a hefty spray of adhesive. “There’s just no need for it. Your printers will be much happier, it’s cheaper to use a water-based or even solvent-based platen adhesive, you save time and money in application, and your presses run faster,” he comments. “To me, if it’s better for the environment, it’s cheaper and your employees are happier, that constitutes an absolute no-brainer.”