The Quest For An Eco-Conscious Freezer Paper Option

In many ways going green is easy and makes good business sense; recycle, compost, install energy efficient lighting, set-up carbon offsets, partner with other eco-conscious companies for needed products and services. No problem. Other aspects are more challenging, especially when you’re super anal, artsy types with high-quality standards. That’s Plywerk. We’d like to share a little story about our efforts to move further towards embodying our eco-conscious ideals.

A comprehensive sustainability audit of Plywerk’s practices identified the use of freezer paper to protect prints during in-house handling and shipping (a common practice in the print industry) as an item of concern. The problem with the freezer paper is it has a plastic coating and is bleached with chlorine. The plastic requires fossil fuel extraction, has problematic by-products in its manufacturing processes, and when combined with other materials like paper it renders the product non-recyclable and non-compostable. Chlorine is relatively persistent and toxic, with harmful by-products from its use in manufacturing.

So, what’s the eco-friendly alternative? A little research identified a few prospective materials, including an unbleached, soy-based wax paper and an unbleached silicone-based parchment paper, as well as the backing of the adhesive already used in-house. The wax and parchment papers had an added benefit of being fully compostable. Sounds great, pick the cheapest one and just go with it, right? Well, we have to consider performance first. Whatever we replace the freezer paper with has to perform the service of protecting delicate prints both in handling and in shipping. This material must protect from scratches and smudges and can be in direct contact with prints for an extended period of time. Additionally, a given sheet may collect some dust before use and could compromise print quality when put to use.

With these considerations in mind, three tests were conceived as important to the performance of any replacement: the Dust Test, the Prolonged Contact through Weathering Test, and the Scratch Test. In that order, we’ll explain the basic methodology and share the results of each test. Keep in mind that our testing has limitations, as we’re not a lab with fancy machines and pressure sensors. We are simply doing our due-diligence with the resources we have.

Dust Test
Is a dust test really necessary? Well, the freezer paper manufacturer claims anti-dust qualities, and one of the alternatives, the adhesive backing, can have a static quality that may actually attract dust. That coupled with Plywerk’s anal tendencies, a dust test was in order.

We took samples of each of the materials, Freezer Paper, Soy Wax Paper, Parchment Paper, Face of Adhesive Backing, and Back of Adhesive Backing, taped them to a cardboard base, placed on a top shelf in the studio, and played the waiting game for about a month. A couple weeks in, the base was rotated in case being closer or further from the wall dictated more or less dust exposure. After one month, each print was subjected to the white glove test to detect the presence of dust over equivalent areas, then rated by unbiased observers as to which white-gloved fingers were the most dusty. As a control, adjacent areas of cardboard were also given the white-glove test. Results of the control showed negligible differences adding confidence that any differences on the paper types could be attributed to their properties rather than position on the shelf.

Dust Test Results
We were surprised at how much variance there was in the dust test. Take a look at the picture below and rate the five fingers from most to least dusty.

Here’s our rank ordering of Dustiest to Least Dusty:

These results show that the soy wax and parchment paper performed the most poorly. This gives reason for pause, but is by no means a deal breaker as other things can be done to prevent dust collection. The next tests are more critical.

Prolonged contact through Weathering Test
As mentioned above, the material can be in direct contact with prints for extended periods of time. Over that time it may experience varying temperatures and humidity. So, we simulated a long period of contact with variable weather conditions.

First, we mounted sample prints of all our print types to a panel, then we laid long strips of the sample materials across the prints.

Next, we wrapped the panel up in a foam sheath and then took it outside and placed the panel face down on a table under a large sheet of glass. By being outside the panel would be exposed to variations in temperature and humidity, while placing it face down protected the prints from UV rays. And, of course, the sheet of glass protected from direct rain.

Then we played the waiting game. After a month. we inspected by slowly pulling back each strip to observe for sticking, then we had multiple raters inspect for disturbances to the print quality.

Dr. Dave taking a close look. Seriously, Dave is a PhD and kinda a big deal.

Another somewhat surprising result: all materials performed marvelously! There was no sticking, discoloration, or any other impact on any of the prints. Encouraging to know that this is not a point of concern regardless of what material we end up using. That leads us to our third and final test to report on. the scratch test.

Scratch Test
With handling in-house and plenty of movement in shipping, there is ample opportunity for scratching to occur. The purpose of the freezer paper is largely to reduce that risk, so the question is how well the materials protect prints from scratches.

We took our most commonly used and most sensitive print types, and randomly assigned each of the test materials to a region (e.g., upper left) of the prints. Working with one material and one print at a time, firm pressure with a fingertip was applied and the finger moved back and forth seven times--a fairly aggressive test, we might add. This procedure was followed for every combination of print type and material. Afterwards, two people inspected each print and reported the degree of scratching observed on a scale of 0--3 (0 = No change; 1 = Very faint scratching; 2 = Noticeable scratching; 3 = Severe scratching). Neither inspector was aware of the other’s ratings, and the second tester (see JJ pic below) was blind to which material was applied to which region of the prints.

JJ, our famed Operations Director, inspects prints and rates the degree of scratching he observes.

The results of the two inspector ratings are here in this table:
Note: The unbleached parchment received two ratings by the second rater, with the second rating being done over a different more color-filled region of the prints.

The first observation was of visible color transfer on both the front and back faces of the adhesive backing. Not a good sign. No color transfer was detected on the freezer paper, or the other two materials, but it is notable that the other two materials are off-white and may have masked any color transfer.

In terms of scratches, the back of the adhesive backing was the most problematic, followed by the soy wax paper. The front of the adhesive backing and the parchment paper had mixed reviews, but noticeable disturbances to at least one print type. The freezer paper we’ve been using scored almost perfectly, with slight scratching detected on one print by just one rater.

Summary and Conclusion
Across the three tests, the freezer paper performed as well or better than any other material tested. The most important test, the scratch test really distinguished it as the best material for our performance needs. We just can’t risk damaging people’s prints. So, where does that leave us? Back to the drawing board. We continue to search for a good alternative to conventional freezer paper that is environmentally friendly and performs as we need it to. Have ideas, let us know at Beyond that, we’ve written the manufacturer of the freezer paper to encourage them to change their production processes to to eliminate the problematic elements of plastic and chlorine. It’s important to demonstrate consumer demand for eco-conscious products, and right now communicating those values is the best we can do on this particular issue.

Thanks for reading about our efforts to further embody our eco-conscious values while not compromising our quality standards. Sometimes, that’s not the easiest thing, but we’ll keep working towards that goal in everything we do. To read more about our efforts and to stay updated on our progress please visit our More Than Just Green page.

UPDATE SEPTEMBER 6th, 2013: After searching Google for "Eco-Conscious Freezer Paper" you will find this article. Pac Paper Inc, in Vancouver Washington, did just that and contacted us about a new eco-conscious freezer paper they had just developed. Read the full story here

-From the Dave Hall and Plywerk Lab

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