By Jeff Leagon
It can be argued that using fabrics for graphics applications is more “green” than other media options. It’s especially true when making a comparison to rigid print media, since fabrics are more lightweight and compact and therefore easier and less expensive to transport. The durability of fabrics means they can be reused many times and are less likely to need replacement due to damage. However, those arguments might not be strong enough to sell hard-core environmentalists on switching to fabric, and those who already print on fabrics want more green options.
Currently, for graphics applications, the most commonly used “eco-friendly” fabrics are made of recycled polyester. They are growing in popularity because the fibers needed to make them are readily available and polyester is compatible with dye sublimation and other print technologies. There are many styles available, including wovens, nonwovens and knits, and they come in a wide range of weights, widths and textures.
What’s important to understand about these fabrics is the origin and blend of their recycled fiber content. Recycled polyester can be either post-consumer or post-industrial or a blend of the two. Post-consumer means that a recycled consumer product (in this case plastic drink bottles) is the raw material source. The bottles are melted and extruded into new fiber. Aurora’s Weaves of Green™ collection offers several fabric styles with 100-percent post-consumer content. Post-industrial content is scrap material from a manufacturing process that is collected for recycling never having made its way into a finished product. Both processes utilize material that would otherwise end up in a landfill. They eliminate the need for crude oil and other hazardous chemicals to produce virgin fiber, and they require much less energy. The post-consumer content has the distinction of being utilized more than once in a finished product. It’s important for suppliers and printers of these materials to know what’s in them so their clients can make informed choices.
An important consideration in choosing an “eco-friendly” fabric is what can be done with it after use. Fortunately, there are recycling options, such as Aurora’s FabRecycle™ program, which is specifically targeted at the fabric graphics market.
Fabrics are being made from renewable and biodegradable raw materials like corn, bamboo and hemp. Since many of the emerging print technologies, such as UV and Latex, are compatible with uncoated media, fabrics made with these fibers will become more common in graphics applications. By offering our customers more “green” fabric options, we can help to soften our impact on the environment as we watch our industry grow.