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Environmentally Preferable Printing Practices National Park Service - Pacific West Region


Whether creating publications at work, at home, or in a print shop, all printing processes use resources and produce waste. Minimizing the environmental impact of printing can often be challenging, but there are some actions that can improve make printing more environmental without sacrificing quality or cost.


  • Use paper with high recycled content, particularly high post-consumer content.

  • Use processed chlorine free, unbleached paper.

  • Use paper with the least basis weight appropriate for your print job. For copy paper, use 20# text; for newsletters and brochures, use 60-70# text; for fliers, depending on durability needs, use 20-65# text;

  • Coatings can provide durability and aesthetic elements to paper, which may be desirable for particular printed materials. However, recycling paper with coatings, colors, or finishes can generate more sludge or harmful waste by-products than untreated paper.


  • Copiers and laser printers use toner, while inkjet and other printers use ink. Vegetable- (such as soy) or water-based inks are the most environmentally friendly printing inks, but print jobs vary and the best choice may not be the same every time. Soy inks are common in many print shops and are usually preferable over water-based inks because of quality. However, virtually all desktop inkjet printers for home or office use water-based inks.

  • Soy inks are safe for workers, do not contain petroleum, and have less VOC emissions. Soy inks provide high-quality finishes, particularly in colors, they offer greater stability than petroleum-based inks, and they require shorter start-ups and less waste. Soy inks are most used in newspapers and large-scale projects, but can be specified when sending a job to a printer.

  • Toner used in laser printers and copy machines is essentially dry ink that bonds to paper under heat and static electricity. Toner is less environmentally friendly because it depends on petroleum, but some believe toner is more efficient than ink, and therefore creates less waste and conserves resources. In general, however, using inks is more environmentally preferable than using toners.

  • Minimizing the amount of colors used in a printing job will reduce the amount of waste produced, resources used, and money spent.


  • In general, the printing process is more sustainable than reprographics (making copies). Printing inks are better than copying toners, but print-shop printing creates more paper waste than copying. For print jobs at work, however, making copies of a single document is more efficient than printing the same number of copies from a printer.


  • Offset printing is the traditional method for large-scale print jobs. This process requires the paper to be larger than its final size because the printer needs grabbing space on the edge of the paper in order to run through the press. Print shops often have concerns about the grain of the paper, so communicating specifications is important. It may be better to specify the characteristics desired in the paper used rather than supplying the paper.


  • When sending a print job to a printer, such as the Government Printing Office, discuss ahead of time the environmental qualities desired. Know your specifications before sending your job to the printer (% recycled content, vegetable-based ink, paper weight, double-sided, etc.). Ask questions concerning the most efficient way of meeting your needs. Learning about the printing process will ensure the best product. Make sure you understand federal printing requirements.

  • Without sacrificing sustainability, be flexible about preferences. If specs don't fit the printing needs, printing may become too cumbersome and less cost-effective. Every print job differs, so it is important to use resources efficiently according to each project need. Examples: Specify a renewable ink (soy, water, or other vegetable-based) rather than a single type of ink; specify paper characteristics rather than a specific brand (but if only one manufacturer makes the requirements you seek, let the printer know who that is).


  • Be aware of the environmental impact of office equipment. Purchase printers and copiers that readily accept recycled-content paper and provide double-sided printing and copying without jamming.

  • Purchase remanufactured toner cartridges and refillable ink cartridges. Both are cheaper and guaranteed to perform as good or better than new products.



  • Sustainability News - NPS

    • Paper Type: New Leaf Reincarnation, 70# text, matte, 100% recycled, 50% post-consumer content, processed chlorine free

    • Ink: Vegetable-based ink

  • PWR Youth Conservation Corps Newsletter

    • Paper Type: Glacier Evolution, 70# text, 100% post-consumer content, processed chlorine free, Greg Barber Co.

    • Ink: Inkjet water-based ink

  • PWR Environmental Purchasing Guide (reference manual)

    • Paper Type: New Life DP 100, 20# text, 60% post-consumer content, processed chlorine free

  • EPA's EPP Update

    • Paper Type: Varied brands - example: Sandpiper by Domtar, 100% post-consumer content, processed chlorine free

  • Green Line - NPS Concessioners

    • Paper Type: RIS Benefit paper , 70# text, 100% recycled content, 30% post-consumer content, processed chlorine free, acid-free

    • Ink: Soy ink