We all know sustainable clothing brands. Whether it’s Patagonia, Levi’s, The North Face or United by Blue. But do we know what makes them sustainable? Underground Printing strives to achieve and set industry standards when it comes to environmental sustainability. We maintain sustainability through a variety of initiatives including supply chain evaluation, commitment to safe practices, and utilizing recycling and waste treatment services. Read about all the ways we commit to environmental sustainability every day.
As the demand for environmentally friendly products rises, our suppliers adapt! We are continuously updating our screen printing suppliers and over the last few years, we’ve completely phased-out or replaced a handful of supplies! These supplies include press wash, liquid emulsion, degreaser, and adhesives. We’ve done and continue to do this in pursuit of products with lower environmental hazards ratings. We’ve also invested in some of the custom printing industry’s most efficient screen reclamation equipment. This allows continuous recycling of cleaning materials in a protected chamber and facilitates the accumulation of byproduct materials allowing for proper disposal!
Any unused screen printing materials and byproducts are handled responsibly through a trusted waste treatment and recycling company (US Ecology). US Ecology was established in 1952 and is a leading provider of environmental services to commercial and government entities. US Ecology works closely with environmental regulatory agencies and offers safe disposal of any waste that could have a negative impact on the environment. Now, we can’t do any screen printing without ink, but we’ve created a nearly zero-waste ink mixing system! By using an ink-mixing system, we can mix the correct amount of ink for each order, limiting excess ink. Sometimes we do end up with small amounts of excess ink but we use that to create new ink colors! We also utilize computer-to-screen screen preparation which helps us eliminate the need to use films for exposure. Our investment in efficient screen-rinsing technology has greatly reduced the amount of water usage typical of the spray-out process used by others in the industry. Also, despite our keen attention to detail during our production processes, printing errors do occur. Instead of discarding any garments with printing errors, we use them as rags and for test prints!
While screen printing has historically comprised the bulk of our overall capacity, more and more of our capacity is shared with digital, water-based printing. The water-based inks we use in this process are CPSIA (Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act) compliant and can be considered more environmentally friendly due to an absence of phthalates and PVC (polyvinyl chloride) found in plastisol inks! Any unused materials or byproducts accumulated during the digital printing process are responsibly treated and recycled. Just as the printing process provides opportunities for environmental responsibility, so does our offering of printable products to the customer. Many of our available garment options for customers contain organic fibers such as natural rayon and organic cotton. We also have an entire line of sustainable garments like t-shirts, sweatshirts, tank tops, and more!
Now, let’s talk about facilities. Our production facility is huge (172,000 sq ft) and with the need for enhanced lighting for quality assurance, UGP takes lighting very seriously. Currently, 85% of our facilities lighting fixtures have been converted to LED and we hope to convert 100% of our lighting to LED over the next 2 years. Converting lighting from fluorescent to LED can reduce energy consumption by up to 75% according to the US Department of Energy! Since good lighting is vital for quality production, we try to make it as sustainable as possible.
Use of computer-based technology has minimized the amount of paper involved in work orders and job tickets. Our cardboard generation is surprisingly minimal compared to others. This is because we utilize corrugated materials! By recycling corrugated material, we are able to use those materials in our branded case boxes. Any corrugated material unused in shipping is handled responsibly through a trusted local recycling company. In total, we recycle roughly 40 tons of corrugated materials annually! On top of cardboard, all plastic materials such as pallet wrap, container packaging, and paper are also recycled. Right sided packaging plays a major role in order shipping. It allows us to minimize the use of filler materials like bubble wrap and air pillows. And when it comes to bulk, we send multiple orders to the same zip codes for customers pickups to reduce the amount of individual shipments!
As the world shifts toward an environmentally sustainable future, UGP strives to set industry standards. In areas where environmental sustainability is an option, we choose it! Our goal over the next few years is to make a path for other companies within our industry to see what eco-friendly options are out there and how to implement them. We also hope to one day be completely environmentally sustainable through every aspect of our company!