Updated: Oct 31, 2019
When we think about screen printing, we think about the original printing technique introduced into Europe in the 18th century, a revolutionary textile technique. It was only until silk mesh was more available for trade in the 19th century that screen printing started to pick up in popularity.
Like many things during the 18th/19th century, many did not consider or were aware of the environmental impact it would have in years to come. It's only been recently that people are trying to reduce the amount of harmful waste it produces.
But, not everyone is aware of the impact it has still...
The inks used to dye the patterns/images onto clothing are called plastisol inks. Can you guess what's inside them? Yup, plastic. Now we are all aware that plastic going into our oceans is very bad for the environment, And with that we usually think of plastic bottles and other single use plastics floating in the sea. Well, plastisol inks are washed from the screens and goes directly down the drain into our water systems, eg. into our ocean. Due to the PVC & phthalates in the plastisol inks, they are quite stubborn to get off the screens when washing them which in turn means there's a lot of wasted water.
But it's not just water used to remove the inks on the screen, it's mineral spirits or plastisol ink remover. These contain chemicals and volatile solvents to break up the ink, which too get washed down the drain. Due to plastisol inks containing PVCs and phthalates ,which are harmful and damaging to the environment, phthalates have had a detrimental biological effects on wildlife. PVC contains plastic microbeads which don't break down when the t-shirts enter landfill either.
Todays 'fast fashion' is increasingly becoming a problem because many people will wear a screen printed t-shirt a couple of times and as soon as they don't like it or deem it to be fashionable any more, it goes in the bin. Now, not everyone will chuck it in the bin, many people will either donate it to a charity shop, sell it online or even find a clothes recycling bin. But at some point it will find it's way to landfill where it'll remain for thousands of years.
So If you're considering buying printed clothing, please consider the environmental impact that screen printing has.
As you may have wondered, there is a environmentally friendly alternative to plastisol inks.
Keep your eyes peeled for our next blog post!