PNEAC Fact Sheet
Improving on a Good Thing:
Romo Reduces TRI Releases
By Keith West, University of Wisconsin - SHWEC

Romo Incorporated, a screen and digital printer in De Pere, Wisconsin has been nationally recognized (see references below) for its leadership efforts in adopting and sharing environmentally preferable materials and work practices in screen printing. A strong focus on environmental stewardship has led Romo's management to direct a series of progressive waste reduction efforts. This case study provides an update on Romo's most recent progress in its quest for continuous environmental improvement. Romo's efforts show how continued and focused commitment to waste reduction is needed to sustain and build upon early successes, thereby providing maximum cost savings and emission reductions.

Like many screen printers, Romo has a diverse repertoire of products, from small decals for original equipment manufacture, through point-of-purchase displays, to fleet graphics. The production equipment fits into a 41,000 square foot plant built in 1992 and has allowed Romo to transact over $9 million in sales for 1998.

Since its founding in 1953, the company has seen a tightening of environmental regulations. In 1986, Romo made a corporate commitment to stay ahead of the regulatory progression through pollution prevention. Romo's focus on source reduction of emissions enabled the comany to meet regulatory requirements, avoiding the negative risks associated with non-compliance such as potential high fines. More importantly, it put Romo in the proactive driver's seat of change, charting its own course with adequate investigation, preparation, and travel time. Romo chose to focus on pollution prevention because the company believes that it best enables the company to fulfill its responsibility to provide both its employees and its community with a safe environment.

The Search Begins

Romo decided to focus its initial efforts on the screen washout area, a primary source of air emissions and hazardous wastes for most screen printers. Screen wash solvent was being sprayed on dirty screens, collected in an open tank, filtered, and reapplied. This process was using 20 to 40 gallons of virgin solvent per day. The filtering method did not sufficiently remove the suspended solids from the solvents. Selected improvements included covering the tank and adding a distillation system. For a cost of $2,900, these improvements cut solvent use more than 90%. Further reductions were made when the solvent delivery hose was equipped with an adjustable spray nozzle, similar to those used on garden hoses. Brushing the screen with solvent before the wash, and limiting the flow from the nozzle with a block of wood under the handle to prevent its full travel, further reduced the amount of screen wash used on each screen.

These two process changes reduced Romo's toluene and methyl isobutyl ketone (MIBK) emissions by 39%, from 30,400 to 18,480 lbs, between 1988 and 1991.

Next Steps

Having experienced the success of its initial efforts, in 1992 Romo joined the EPA's 33/50 program. In doing so, the company voluntarily set goals of reducing emissions from their 1991 levels by 33% in one year and by 50% at the end of the fourth year, 1995. A three-pronged approach was planned to meet these goals, including:

  1. reduce the volume of all chemicals used;
  2. seek alternative application techniques; and
  3. improve selection of materials used.

Employee input was solicited from all levels and feasible projects were chosen for each area of the production process. To qualify for adoption, any change had to reduce chemical exposure risks to employees, reduce pollution, and to be compatible with the other tasks in the production process.

After review of suggested improvements, Romo decided to focus on improving the emulsion removal task and changing the press wash. Emulsion removal was by the installation of a high-pressure washer. The washer improved cleaning effectiveness while reducing usage of water and emulsion remover. In fact, the emulsion remover concentration was halved while still producing the same cleaning effect. Work processes were also modified to improve an initial application of full-strength emulsion remover. Previously, this had been applied by manual brush and resulted in excess application that dripped onto the cleaning room floor. The new process uses a controlled spray, which uniformly applies a thinner coat of emulsion remover, reducing dripping and waste. Together, these improvements reduced emulsion remover purchases by 75%.

A new press wash recommended by other screen printers was chosen. It cleaned with propylene glycol monomethyl ether, propylene glycol monomethyl ether acetate, and cyclohexanone rather than toluene or MIBK. At the end of 1992, less than one year into the 33/50 program, the toluene and MIBK releases had been reduced by more than 70% to a combined 5,390 lbs. Romo had surpassed not only the first year's goal, but made such great strides that the four-year goal was eclipsed. More details of Romo's participation in the 33/50 program are available in the DfE screen printing case study: Reducing the Use of Reclamation Chemicals in Screen Printing.

Further Improvements

Buoyed by their success in the 33/50 program, Romo swam into the deeper waters of pollution prevention in 1996. Because of their commitment to continuous environmental improvement, Romo's managers decided upon a proactive goal, to eliminate the use of all chemicals listed in the USEPA's Toxics Release Inventory (TRI). In order to implement the goal, they looked for further emission reductions with new screen cleaning products. A "Solvent Team" was formed consisting of employees who use the screen cleaning solvents. Romo's solvent vendor was able to supply some alternative products and different samples were provided by other suppliers. Alternative products were tested under production conditions. Data were gathered to document the amounts used, any recommended changes in production procedures, and how easy the products were to use.

After several months of testing, Romo's Solvent Team chose to adopt new products for its press wash, screen wash, and emulsion remover. The active ingredient in the press wash is isobutyl isobuterate, and the screen wash relies on propylene glycol ethers and other nonhazardous proprietary chemicals. The chosen replacements do not contain toluene, MIBK, or any other TRI-listed chemicals.

Impacts

Savings

Table 1 shows the change in chemical use before and after the 1996 switch. Unit costs of the replacement press and screen washes, designated in Table 1 as 'post-96', are higher than their 'pre-96' counterparts. However, the volumes used are substantially reduced, resulting in a net savings of $3,170 per year, a reduction of 12.6%.

Approximately one quarter of the 1995 press wash use has continued in 1998. The post-96 press wash has not been able to clean some of the difficult jobs as well as the pre-96 press wash, especially when printing halftone images. Hazardous waste disposal and labor costs did not change significantly.

 

Table 1. Effects of 1996 Changes on Solvent Use and Costs

 

 

Amount Used

(gal/yr)

Unit Cost

($/gal)

Total Yearly

Material Cost

Materials and Costs before 1996 Improvements

Pre-96 Press Wash

2530

$3.26

$8,248

 

 

Pre-96 Screen Wash

1265

$13.30

$16,825

1995 total

 

 

$25,072

Materials and Costs after 1996 Improvements

Post-96 Press Wash

1045

$13.30

$13,899

 

 

 

 

Post-96 Screen Wash

385

$15.20

$5,852

Pre-96 Press Wash

660

$3.26

$2,152

1998 total

 

 

 

 

$21,902

Annual Savings

 

$3,170

A new emulsion remover is an integral part of the screen cleaning process. The combination of new press and screen washes and emulsion remover cleans so much better than the previous chemicals that the need for an optional final step in screen cleaning, secondary haze removal, has been reduced. Only 5% of the screens used in 1997 required haze removal, down from 33% of all screens in 1988. Two areas of savings result from this change. First, fewer gallons of haze removing chemicals are purchased. Second, since the screens' exposure to the caustic haze remover is reduced, the screens are replaced less frequently. Spent haze remover is captured in a drain trap which requires infrequent cleaning and disposal, the costs of which are minimal and have not changed appreciably.

Emission Reduction

Impressive waste reduction has been attained by Romo in this round of changes. Table 2 depicts a total reduction in TRI chemical emissions of 64% between 1995 and 1998. Some rebound in emissions has occurred between 1996 and 1998. A portion of this can be explained by Romo's fast growth, especially in areas which require use of the pre-96 cleaning system.

Table 2. TRI Releases at Romo

 

Toluene (lb)

MIBK (lb)

Total TRI Releases

(lb)

Change in Total TRI Releases (%)

Change in Company Sales Revenue

(%, unadjusted for inflation)

1995

9,106

3,984

13,090

 

 

 

 

 

 

1996

2,101

919

3,020

1998

3,749

937

4,686

Change

1998-1995

-5,357

-3,047

-8,404

-64%

70%

Future Plans

Romo plans to continue its progress toward increased environmental stewardship with more basic changes in its printing materials. Currently the only product used that releases a TRI-listed chemical is the pre-96 press wash. This solvent is only used to clean solvent-based inks. As part of its 'zero TRI reportable' goal, Romo has been working to reduce its use of solvent-based inks, replacing them with UV-cured inks. In the midst of the changes described here, UV ink use continued to increase from 40% of Romo's total ink volume in 1995 to 60% in 1998. Individual product lines are converted to UV ink through the expertise of Romo's research and development team. More progress is planned for the future. Based upon their success with UV inks, Romo is committed to completely phase out solvent-based inks, expecting to reach its goal of eliminating all TRI releases by 2003.

References

  1. Details of Romo's participation in the 33/50 program are available in the DfE screen printing case study: Reducing the Use of Reclamation Chemicals in Screen Printing, EPA 744-F-93-015, available from the Pollution Prevention Information Clearinghouse, 202-260-1023, or www.epa.gov/opptintr/dfe/screenprinting/case_studies/case1/!project.pdf 
  2. Romo was awarded an 1997 Environmental Champion award by USEPA and Chemical Engineering Magazine. A description can be found at www.che.com 
  3. A video case study describing Romo's recent pollution prevention activities is contained in Using Screen Printing Technologies for Business and Environmental Success. A videotape with written description is available from PNEAC
  4. Romo's Quality Manager, Jon Weber, can be reached at 920-336-5100, jweber@romoinc.com.
  5. The Screenprinting and Graphic Imaging Association offers technical assistance to screenprinters. Visit SGIA's web site at www.sgia.org or contact Marci Kinter at 703-385-1335 or marcik@sgia.org.

Primary Author

By Keith West
University of Wisconsin - SHWEC

Other PNEAC Contacts

Debra Jacobson
University of Illinois Sustainable Technology Center
djacobson@istc.illinois.edu
630.472.5019

Gary Jones
Graphic Arts Technical Foundation
GJones@printing.org
412.741.6860

Wayne Pferdehirt
Solid & Hazardous Waste Education Center
pferdehi@epd.engr.wisc.edu
608.265.2361

Written: 2000
Updated: June 7, 2011

Note: Reasonable effort has been made to review and verify information in this document. Neither PNEAC and it's partners, nor the technical reviewers and their agencies, assume responsibility for completeness and accuracy of the information, or it's interpretation. The reader is responsible for making the appropriate decisions with respect to their operation, specific materials employed, work practices, equipment and regulatory obligations. It is imperative to verify current applicable regulatory requirements with state and/or local regulatory agencies.

© 2000 PNEAC