Business Advice

Navigating the complexities of deinking for sustainable printing and recycling

by Graeme Richardson-Locke | 29/08/2023
Navigating the complexities of deinking for sustainable printing and recycling

Graeme Richardson-Locke, Head of Associations and Technical Lead at FESPA, discusses deinking.

The increasing focus and interest in sustainability and circular economy principles has highlighted the complex challenges of deinking, a crucial process in the recycling and reuse of printed materials. As an advocate for greater sustainability, I wanted to explore the multi-faceted world of deinking, discussing its significance, the hurdles it presents, and the promise of developments that are reshaping the landscape of sustainable printing and recycling.

The deinking dilemma: unveiling the challenges

Deinking, the process of removing ink from printed materials, is vital in enabling the recycling of paper and paperboard. However, the journey from printed page to deinked pulp is fraught with intricate challenges, stemming from diverse ink formulations, curing methods, substrate variations and consumer behaviours.

One of the most significant challenges is posed by the diverse spectrum of ink formulations used in various printing technologies. UV-cured, solvent-based and water-based inks each bring their own unique chemical compositions and curing mechanisms to the table. This diversity necessitates specialised approaches to ink removal. For example, UV-cured inks, which rapidly polymerise upon exposure to ultraviolet light, form robust bonds with paper fibres, preventing the deinking process from being completely successful.

Substrate variability further compounds the deinking issue. Paper substrates vary in quality, fibre content, coatings and surface treatments. As a result, tailored deinking processes are required to optimise outcomes. The quality of deinked output is a paramount concern, as incomplete ink removal or damage to fibres can lead to lower-quality recycled paper products.

Technical and economic hurdles: striking a delicate balance

Advancing deinking technology involves specialised equipment and processes, often accompanied by significant levels of investment. While technological progress is evident, economic viability remains a formidable hurdle as segregation, volume and collection systems improve. Deinking can escalate operational expenses, potentially outweighing the economic gains from recycling. Striking a balance between cost-effectiveness and sustainable recycling practices becomes a tightrope walk for industry players.

Furthermore, the energy and chemical requirements of deinking processes contribute to the complexity of the issue. Energy-intensive steps and chemical interventions demand meticulous considerations to minimise the environmental footprint. Establishing eco-friendly deinking processes that maintain high efficiency levels is a delicate balancing act.

Consumer behaviour and market dynamics: shaping the future

Market demand for recycled paper products is dynamic, directly influencing the need for deinking capacity. Fluctuations in demand can impact the incentive to invest in deinking processes. Additionally, consumer behaviour plays a pivotal role. Contaminants like plastic or metal can enter into recycling streams that can disrupt deinking operations and degrade the quality of recycled materials.

Promising pathways to progress

Despite these challenges, the industry is showing resilience and promise through collaborative efforts, research and technological innovation. The development of deinkable inks is a notable breakthrough. Collaborations between ink manufacturers, paper mills and recycling facilities have led to inks that facilitate easier ink removal while preserving the quality of recycled pulp.

Organisations such as the International Association of the Deinking Industry (INGEDE) are at the forefront of driving progress. INGEDE sets standards, promotes research and facilitates knowledge exchange among industry stakeholders. Its contributions have resulted in the establishment of guidelines for ink deinkability and the certification of products meeting these standards.

Technology is playing a pivotal role in overcoming the deinking challenge. Specialised deinking equipment and processes are being refined to target specific ink formulations and substrates. Research and testing efforts are evaluating the deinkability of various printing technologies, driving more efficient and effective processes.

Balancing economic feasibility and environmental sustainability is possible through waste-to-energy conversion methods. Although not a direct recycling solution, waste-to-energy processes provide a better alternative to landfill disposal, contributing to a circular economy by converting waste into energy.

The complexities of deinking pose significant hurdles in achieving sustainable printing practices and the circular use of materials. However, these challenges also create opportunities for innovation and progress. As the technology evolves, processes are improved, and collaborations deepen, the recycling and circular use of materials can become more attainable and environmentally conscious.

To navigate these complexities successfully, industry stakeholders must work together to advance deinking technology, foster the development of deinkable inks, and establish standardised processes. Regulatory support, public awareness campaigns and responsible consumer behaviour are integral to overcoming deinking challenges and fostering a greener future.

Ultimately, deinking is not just a challenge; it is a crucial opportunity to drive positive change, minimise environmental impact and forge a sustainable path forward in the world of printing, recycling and circular economy principles.

It is important to understand which recycling stream your print production waste will follow and where its potential future value sits. It is likely that most of the waste in wide format inkjet will follow a packaging waste path as this is where it can be recycled into the waste hierarchy as shown below: it provides and advises the top priority to prevent waste in the first place. When waste is created, it gives priority to preparing it for reuse, then recycling, then recovery, and last of all disposal (e.g. landfill).

  • Prevention: Using less material in design and manufacture. Keeping products for longer; reuse. Using less hazardous materials.
  • Preparation for reuse: Checking, cleaning, repairing, refurbishing, whole items, or spare parts 
  • Recycling: Turning waste into a new substance or product. 
  • Other recovery: Includes composting if it meets quality protocols Includes anaerobic digestion, incineration with energy recovery, gasification and pyrolysis which produce energy (fuels, heat and power) and materials from waste, some backfilling. 
  • Disposal: Landfill and incineration without energy recovery.


For now, it is advisable to speak to your recycling service provider and clarify the segregation and waste identification needs to ensure your well-intentioned actions don’t result in unintended contamination of otherwise recoverable fibre. When you’re clear on the recycler’s process, you will be able to accurately describe what happens at end of life rather than provide statements that are vague and unclear to your customers.

Useful online advice

Further advice is available from organisations such as IINGEDE: INGEDE is a prominent organisation that focuses on the deinking industry. It provides research, guidelines and standards for ink deinkability, deinking processes, and related topics. Their website offers valuable resources, publications, and updates on advancements in deinking technology. For more information please click here

The EU Waste Framework Directive provides helpful guidance. 

by Graeme Richardson-Locke Back to News

Become a FESPA member to continue reading

To read more and access exclusive content on the Club FESPA portal, please contact your Local Association. If you are not a current member, please enquire here. If there is no FESPA Association in your country, you can join FESPA Direct. Once you become a FESPA member, you can gain access to the Club FESPA Portal.

Recent news

New sustainable materials at Sustainability Spotlight
Tomorrow's World

New sustainable materials at Sustainability Spotlight

Sustainability Spotlight returned by popular demand to FESPA Global Print Expo last month in an exhibit curated by The Good Factory.

Sportswear Pro: building ‘Brand Me’
Tomorrow's World

Sportswear Pro: building ‘Brand Me’

After the success of the inaugural Sportswear Pro last month, we spoke with panellist and personalisation expert James Lawrence-Jones about the most exciting revelations at the event.

Packaging regulation – a warning to UK printers
Business Advice

Packaging regulation – a warning to UK printers

We spoke to George Atkinson, Head of Policy at environmental consultancy Valpak, about how printers should be cautious regarding stricter packaging regulations.

How AI can benefit your data collection
How to Guides

How AI can benefit your data collection

Printers are collecting data about everything from costs to customers and inventory. But how can AI help you to make the most of that?