Anagram Saves Over $68,600 through Waste Reduction Reducing Solvent and Ink Purchases and Waste in the Flexographic Printing

Industry Process Background

Anagram International, Inc. manufactures products made of synthetically-based films. Their products include Mylar® balloons, self-sealing valves, consumer gift packaging and industrial packaging. Anagram employs approximately 400 people and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Anagram uses three six-color and one eight-color flexographic printing presses. Flexographic printing uses flexible raised-image printing plates and rapid-drying fluid inks to carry out direct rotary printing. Solvent is used to thin inks, clean the presses and wipe up ink spills. Used solvent is sent out for recycling then purchased back at less than virgin-solvent costs. The recycled solvent is used primarily to clean the printing decks.

Incentives for Change

The printing manager established a goal to reduce hazardous waste 25% by the end of 1996 as a cost cutting effort. Anagram’s printing operation generated most of their hazardous waste. At the start of the intern project, they generated 34 drums of hazardous waste a month. Waste from cleaning the printing decks made up about 75% (1,400 gallons) of the total.

Options Implemented

Multiple Stage Cleaning

Every printing press had five to six buckets of pump-wash solvent nearby to clean each press’ six to eight printing decks. One of these buckets would be randomly selected to flush the ink from the decks. Press cleaning was modified to an organized three-stage cleaning process.

  • Stage 1: Majority of the ink is removed using dirty solvent.
  • Stage 2: Ink, left after the first stage, is removed using partially dirty solvent.
  • Stage 3: Any remaining ink is removed by the cleanest solvent.

Using all three stages takes an extra four to six minutes per deck, but often using only the first two stages cleans sufficiently. When the solvent in the stage-1 bucket becomes too thick, it is emptied. Solvent is replenished by the subsequent stage (i.e., the solvent used as stage 2 becomes stage 1) and stage 3 is filled with fresh solvent. Solvent use decreases because the solvent is used longer before it is discarded. To make the system easy, each printing press has a cart with three buckets that are clearly labeled so employees know when each bucket should be used. Employee training on using the system and on its benefits, along with making the system easy to use were essential to the success of multiple-stage cleaning. Savings: $28,200 per year in solvent purchases and disposal costs. Reduces solvent waste by almost 120 drums per year.

Shutdown Procedure

During press shutdown, the ink pumps are placed in individual buckets of pump-wash solvent to prevent any solvent or ink from drying inside them. Fresh solvent was usually obtained to soak the pumps. Now, solvent buckets are dedicated for press shutdown and are not used for cleaning. The solvent remains fairly clean and is used indefinitely. Buckets of pump wash, designated by the signs that say “Pump wash used only to soak pumps,” are placed by each printing press and the press workers are trained on their proper use. Savings: Included in multiple-stage cleaning savings.

Deck Draining

Before a printing deck is cleaned, the ink from the ink chamber and hoses is drained into a bucket. Because of the layout of the pump and hoses, about two pounds of ink remains in the hoses of the bottom printing decks. When solvent is flushed through the system, more solvent is needed to clean out this wasted ink. Before cleaning, the ink is recovered by elevating the entrances to the hoses for ten seconds. Savings: $15,400 per year in ink purchases.

Printing Deck Hose Length and Size

Hoses between the ink pumps and the printing decks varied in length and often were longer than necessary, causing slack in the lines. During a color change, ink was lost when it did not drain completely. The intern determined the optimal hose length for each level of the printing decks. Now, a sign that lists the correct lengths and a ruler are located by the extra hose so employees can easily cut the correct lengths. Savings: Not determined.

Recycled Solvent for Thinning Ink

Anagram sends out their used solvent for recycling and purchases back the recycled solvent for use as press wash. Recycled solvent is now combined with virgin solvent (1:4) to thin the inks and it has no affect on printing quality. Savings: $16,800 a year in virgin solvent purchases.

Recycled Ink

Experiments determined that contaminated ink, which does not contain any white ink, can be reworked into the black ink. Contaminated ink is now added at 10% to the black ink without affecting quality. Savings: $8,200 a year in ink purchases and disposal costs.

Additional Options

Floor Washings

Anagram combines their waste from washing the floor with ink and solvent waste. Separating out the floor washings (2-3 drums per month) may permit them to be sewered. Anagram is reviewing this with their wastewater treatment authority. Potential savings: Not determined.

On-site Solvent Distillation

An on-site solvent recovery system was investigated. The system must use a vacuum in order to distill nitrocellulose, an ink component, which can be explosive when dry. The use of a solvent recovery system would eliminate the purchase of recycled solvent and would reduce the amount of waste being shipped out by over 75%. Potential savings: $29,100 annually in recycled solvent purchases and disposal costs. Would reduce hazardous waste by 240 drums per year.


Implementing the options identified above has reduced Anagram’s hazardous waste by 30%. This will save them over $68,600 a year. Greater savings are possible if additional options are implemented. Anagram has completed other hazardous waste reduction projects as well. In eight months, they exceeded their goal—ahead of schedule—and reduced hazardous waste by 50%.

This project was conducted in 1996 by MnTAP intern Qui Hong, a chemical engineering senior at the University of Minnesota.