Lately I have become more alarmingly aware of the usage of soy-based inks and other soy products.. I say “alarmingly aware” as I have a severe allergy to soy, among other severe food allergies.
The first time I encountered anything with soy-based ink was while shopping at a local health food store. On the way out the door, the cashier handed me a flier for their latest sales. My husband and I piled the groceries in the car and drove home.
Once home and after the groceries were put away, I sat down and began to leaf through the color pages of the flier. I spotted some pretty good deals and thought we should get the flier more often. About the third or fourth page in, I saw it. There, at the bottom of the page, with the little stars in front of it, was the statement that the flier was printed using soy-based inks.
I was alarmed and upset at this. With all of my severe food allergies, I try hard to stay away from foods – even shampoos, conditioners, and lotions that have extracts of allergenic foods in them – and BAMB! I’m hit with something like this. I don’t have to eat any food I’m severely allergic to get a reaction. All I have to do is touch something with the allergenic food, and if the residue is left on my skin too long, I break out in hives.
“Oh, great!” I said after reading the soy-based ink statement.
My husband looked up at me and questioned as to what the problems was. I told him about the soy-based ink. His response: “Throw it (the flier) away and go wash your hands.” He knows how severe of a reaction I can have to the point where hives make my head swell, or I struggle for my next breath.
I was a little shaky after that wondering when a reaction would start. Thankfully, I didn’t have a reaction…this time. I was able to calm myself down and just told myself not to handle the flier from that store. Problem solved, right? I thought so, but found out I was horribly wrong.
In late June ’07, on a very mild, humid, sunny and breezy morning, I let my 11 year old Chihuahua, Tea Cup, outside and spotted a yellow plastic bag that said, Yellow Book. I realized our new phone book was inside.
While Tea Cup laid out in the grass, I thumbed through the phone book just out of curiosity to see how much had changed in the past year. I started at the back of the book – strange I know – and then made my way to the front. On the second page was a statement saying that Yellow Book has now started printing their phone books with soy-based inks as it is environmentally friendly. Environmentally friendly, maybe, but not friendly to me, or others who share in having an allergy to soy.
Outraged, I hurried my dog inside, put away the phone book and washed my hands in hot soapy water. This got me thinking. How widely spread is this soy-based ink being used? Is it being used by only a few companies, or should I be wearing gloves every time I go to pick something up that has been printed? Where can soy-based inks be found aside from the one grocery story flier and phone book I have encountered? Should I turn to resources of the digital age and read all of my news, local events, magazines, and books online, regardless of my love for the printed word?
How much more environment-friendly is soy-based ink compared to the ink many of us use in our printers? What is the potential for an allergic reaction to the ink or any soy-based product? If there is a potential, what is being done to warn allergic consumers of the danger?
The comparison between soy-based ink to petroleum-based ink is significant enough to warrant the use of soy ink over petroleum ink. Through my research I have found that in 1987, soybeans were first used to make ink. Upon testing the ink, the ink was found not to have a threat on the air or the environment. Soybeans were in abundance and cost little compared to rising prices of petroleum.
In addition, soy inks produce low levels of VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, which aid in depleting air pollution by minimizing emissions.
Out of the 2,000 different vegetable oil combinations that were tried, soy was chosen not only for their abundance, low cost and low level of VOCs. They were chosen by newspapers because soy-based colored inks are brighter than others and produce sharper and brighter images..
Papers printed with soy ink are also easier to recycle as soy ink is more easily removed from paper in the de-inking process. Therefore, the paper afterward is brighter with less damage to the fibers. The waste left over from the de-inking process is not hazardous and is easily treated.
As with most things in life, there are good and bad sides. With soy, there is no exception. Since soy ink has some of the same pigments and chemicals used in petroleum-based ink, it is therefore, not edible or even one hundred percent biodegradable. Soy ink cannot be used in ball point pens or personal printers.
One major problem found with soy ink is that it is easily rubbed off after going through the whole printing process. Yet, regardless, soy ink has remained a large and profitable market, of which, newspapers are the largest buyers. Ninety percent of the country’s daily newspapers use soy-based ink with circulations near 1,500. In the United States alone, roughly a quarter of commercial printers use soy ink. The use of soy ink is spreading world wide and is now popular in Asia, Korea, Japan, Taiwan as well as throughout Europe and Australia.
Okay, so that is a lot of good background information on soy ink, but really, how much better is it than petroleum-based ink? Is there a percentage? Any numerical figure?
I furthered my research and found research done by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) that yielded more of the results I was looking for.
According to the EPA, two print runs were made, one for the use of soy ink, the other for the use of petroleum-based inks. They found that petroleum-based inks required larger amounts of three out of four colors compared to soy ink. Seventeen percent more petroleum-based inks were used per printed sheet.
For the VOCs (volatile organic compounds) I mentioned earlier, the EPA stated all inks have less than 6% VOCs. Petroleum-based inks average 4.6% VOCs while soy based inks averaged about 0.8%. Soy ink only contained about seventeen percent volatiles as the petroleum inks.
Overall, soy inks have shown to release less than 20% of the mass of VOCs, compared to the petroleum-based inks. Soy ink lasts 15% longer and so offsets any difference in cost that may exist.
So my question of how much better is soy ink for the environment than petroleum ink has been answered with facts. Soy ink is indeed far better for the environment.
Now on to my next question: What is the potential of an allergic reaction to soy inks?
The countless hours I have spent trying to find an answer to the question gave me little results. I sent out many e-mails to local newspapers such as the Vermont News Guide and New England Newspapers, Inc., which is affiliated with several newspapers around where I live. I also sent e-mails to local stores such as Shaw’s, Hannaford, and Price chopper. The e-mails inquired as to if soy ink was used in their printing and if indeed it was used, if anyone, employees and/or customers had any adverse reactions.
The Vermont News Guide wrote back saying they do use soy ink, but that they have not had anyone complain of a reaction. I never heard anything from New England Newspapers, Inc. since ninety percent of the country’s newspapers use soy ink I wouldn’t be too surprised if the local newspapers used soy ink.
I did hear back from the stores I contacted. Shaw’s, Hannaford and Price Chopper do not use soy ink in printing their fliers or signs.
Receiving only a little help from the above companies, I contacted the Newspaper Association of America and the Magazine Publishers of America. Neither were able to answer my question or give me a list of newspapers or magazines that use soy ink.
I thought of where to go next and since the EPA ran a comparison test between petroleum-based and soy-based ink, I e-mailed them about the safety of soy ink and those with soy allergy. As of July 24, 2007, I have not heard anything back from the EPA.
The last place I contacted was the Asthma and Allergy Foundation to see if they have heard anything about soy products and if there have been any reactions. Again no response.
I then contacted companies who make soy products for candles, paints, crayons, bio-diesel and cleaning products. I only heard back from Soy Clean, makers of soy-based cleaning products. I was told the cleaning products are non-toxic to humans, biodegradable, and have low levels of VOCs which means they don’t release toxic fumes. Still, they didn’t answer my question as to whether or not there have been any allergic reactions to the soy used in the cleaning products. I was beginning to wonder if companies were afraid to talk to me on this subject, or if they really didn’t have any information.
Left at a stand still for the answer as to soy ink’s safety for those allergic to soy, I decided I would draw my own conclusion as to whether there is a potential of an allergic reaction to soy ink, or other soy products such as candles, paints, crayons, bio-diesel as well as soy cleaning products.
If you are allergic to soy, like I am, your best bet would be to avoid anything you know of that contains soy until documentation is released as to the safety of soy products for the soy allergic. Let’s hope documentation will be available soon.
EPA Project Summary on Soy-Based and Petroleum-Based Inks –
Wikipedia information on Soy Ink – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soy_ink
Soy Cleaning Products:
Soy Clean – http://soyclean.biz/
Brazil Essentials – http://bazilessentials.com/catalog/product_info.php?products_id=273&osCsid=15de786641fce7a444364456466c2587
(Under paints and coatings) – http://www.omnitechintl.com/bio_product_nfo.asp
Soy-Based Crayons, Bio-diesel, Ink:
New Uses for Soy – http://www.soynewuses.org/Default.aspx