Are you being an environmental nuisance? Well, Paul Machin is here to tell you why you should change your ways

“The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people.” is a quotation from John Stuart Mill who was a British philosopher, political economist and civil servant that could sum up the concept of an environmental nuisance. But does it? Many people choose to live near to a noise, be it a railway, road or airport. Why? It could be for accessibility for travel purposes or lower housing costs influenced by the environmental nuisance of noise. Having experienced such a situation it is surprising how quickly that the external noise disappears from the overall audible perception of the individual when exposed to such sensations over a period of time.
How many printers rapidly become accustomed to the smell of solvents in printing inks and cleaners? Also, it is possible to become quickly familiarised with the surroundings in a poorly lit room. So if the human being can swiftly accommodate these environmental phenomena why is it necessary to legislate to control and limit the impact of an environmental nuisance? It will be a deliberate choice to purchase a property in close proximity to a transport noise for the reasons mentioned earlier. However, for a householder sitting in the garden enjoying a period of relaxation it would be unreasonable to expect to experience a rock concert in next door’s garden on a regular basis. Similarly, it is to be expected that a visit to a printing plant will be highly likely expose the visitor to unusual olfactory sensations that could be unpleasant. However, it would be unreasonable for the local inhabitants to be subjected to that experience on a routine basis.

In the case of the printer what controls are in place?

Across the European Union (EU) there are controls on noise levels. However; probably a number of readers may question that fact when being exposed to the ear-piercing sound of the exhaust of certain motorbike and scooter exhausts. There are limitations on the volume of printing ink solvents (VOCs) and dusts that can be released into the atmosphere. In the UK there are controls on the odour levels at the printing plant boundaries. Within the EU there are countries that impose other restrictions associated with environmental nuisance.
The general concept that is being applied across the EU and many other countries is the precautionary principle. The precautionary principle seems to be infinitely contestable, but then so is sustainable development- a concept with which precaution principle has a great deal of affinity. Underlying both are enormously complex trade-offs between human needs and environmental rights; landscape development and nature conservation; immediate consumption and long term well-being. The overall principle being applied is that the polluter pays. The purpose of the precautionary principle is “to encourage perhaps even oblige decision makers to consider the likely harmful effects of their activities on the environment before they pursue those activities”
It is necessary to understand all these restrictions and their impact upon sustainability but also endeavour to maximise the marketing advantage that can be available from following the sustainable approach to printing.

What levels of noise are considered a nuisance?

This is covered by Directive 2002/49/EC relating to the assessment and management of environmental noise. This Directive is aimed at controlling noise perceived by people in built-up areas, in public parks or other quiet areas in an agglomeration, in quiet areas in open country, near schools, hospitals and other noise-sensitive buildings and areas. It does not apply to noise that is caused by the exposed person him or herself, noise from domestic activities, noise created by neighbours, noise at work places or inside means of transport or noise due to military activities in military areas.
While it does not control noise within the workplace it does have direct implications with respect to noise generated in the workplace that could affect any neighbours especially for larger printing plants. There are noise indicative levels for both day and night.

In the FESPA Planet Friendly Guide there is further information as to the likely sources of noise within the printing plant activity as well as simple and practical techniques on how the abate the generation of noise.

How can odour levels be controlled or reduced?

To control anything the first essential is to determine from where it originates. In the case of a printing plant the major source of odour is solvents (VOCs) in inks and sundry products. Each solvent, like perfume, has a different smell. Also like perfume, some solvents have an odour that is more or less acceptable than others. An added issue is that the human detection level can be extremely acute. In some cases humans can detect some solvents at less than 0.1 part per million. Another issue is that individual solvents have widely different detection concentrations. It therefore becomes extremely difficult to set a standard as an acceptable odour level for printing products that use a wide range of solvents.
Within the printing plant odour levels can be controlled or reduced by using extraction, however; depending on the design it can cause problems with the neighbours. A Chinese hat fitted on the extraction exhaust pushes the odours down to the ground and does not dilute the concentration. A venturi fitment on the top of the extraction accelerates the mixing of the odours with air thereby diluting the odour concentration as well as dispersing it further away from the ground. Another alternative is to replace the VOCs in inks by using UV curing inks.
There are sensory techniques that utilise human assessors to assess odour. The most commonly applied sensory technique is olfactometry, which is used to measure the concentration of an odour in terms of European Odour Units (ouE/m3). Olfactometry is aimed at characterising environmental odours, relevant to human beings. Further information can be found in the FESPA Planet Friendly Guide.

Do individual EU countries have different concerns about environmental nuisance?

There is the Convention on the Protection of the Environment between Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. For the purpose of this Convention environmentally harmful activities shall mean the discharge from the soil or from buildings or installations of solid or liquid waste, gas or any other substance into water courses, lakes or the sea and the use of land, the seabed, buildings or installations in any other way which entails or may entail environmental nuisance by water pollution or any other effect on water conditions, sand drift, air pollution, noise, vibration, changes in temperature, ionizing radiation, light etc.
France officially launched the “GrenelleEnvironnement” in 2007 that combines the state and civil society in order to define new actions for sustainable development. The establishment of a “climate energy contribution” or “carbon tax” (tax on products for their environmental nuisance) was to bring in near 9.7 billion Euros a year, according to a study by the ADEME (French Agency for Environment and Energy Management). But the measure has not been included in any bill yet, and even though the Government has announced its future implementation it has not set any timetable.
For over a quarter of a century Germany has had a systematic modern environmental policy. More and more parts of the business sector have developed a keen interest in stringent environmental regulations that have led to an increased market share.
This wide divergence of approach leads to many difficulties for the printer. An activity that can be tolerated in some countries is considered illegal in others.

Why should the printer care about environmental nuisance?

To make a profit, probably the most important driver for any business, the printer must always consider the customer. There are a number of reasons why environmental nuisance can have an impact upon the vital decision making process of the print buyer. Major organisations are always concerned about adverse publicity. It can seriously damage their reputation or company image. Well known branded products can be easily tarnished by declarations that their suppliers employ child labour, cause pollution or similar activities.
The print buyer from a multinational company will be primed to pick up any issues that could affect his company’s name. Therefore a buyer visiting a printing factory will be influenced by environmental nuisances. A plant emitting VOCs that pervade the atmosphere around the site, excessive noise, any waste cluttering the site will send adverse signals as to potential problems. Although such activities may not lead to a legal prosecution it is a possibility, however remote, that will raise alarm.

Many organisations are looking to their suppliers to assist them in their environmental performance. This can be an over arching requirement in the specification of a print order. An awareness of potential environmental nuisances will be needed to satisfy the customers’ needs.
For those readers who have watched the FESPA Planet Friendly video they will be aware of its commitment to the environment and sustainability. This is my last blog on sustainability and as such I would like to quote an English writer Ronald Blythe who was born in my home county in England: “I sometimes think that God will ask us, “That wonderful world of mine, why didn’t you enjoy it more?””
Perhaps the answer is because we did not take proper care of it!