The thrill of receiving a package at your door and the wash of relief that derives from avoiding an overwhelming store may come at a steeper price than you realize.

Modern online retailers often brand the exteriors of their cardboard boxes, the paper inside the boxes, and the tags on your products with trendy logos and other visual cues to increase brand recognition.

In nail-biting news, the ink used to print these logos may be more toxic than previously thought. Despite the fact that consumers remain at reportedly ‘low’ levels of risk from these carcinogens, the individuals who handle these packages -possibly your colleagues, friends and relatives- may be at elevated risk.

The ink can poison human nervous systems and “…can cause neurological damage… and have also been found to be carcinogenic and contribute to birth defects.” In addition, the waste from the production and processing of ink pigments can leech into groundwater, poisoning an essential non-renewable resource, and causing harm to countless animal species.

Where are the regulators?

In the US, laws do not exist to limit the production of toxic compounds, like these.

Alternative options exist. Are they the right solution, or are they comparably dubious, but in different ways?

When it comes to printed packaging, ink typically represents 1-3% of the total weight of the package. This number often skews towards 1%. In most instances, ink consists of 35% resins and modifiers, 15% pigment and about 50% solvent or water. These ratios can be manipulated in order to improve the ecological footprint.

So what about soy ink?

Soy-based inks are more ecologically friendly than traditional ink. However, the label soy ink may mislead consumers, as the framework defining soy ink only requires for it to be 7% soy based. As a result, unless you know the ratio of soy to solvents in your ink, you may want to think twice about advertising your use of soy ink to consumers.

In recent years, algae-based inks have emerged on the market. Algae ink does not typically contain any harmful petroleum and it also absorbs carbon.

An inkling that toxic ink is out

In the 1970s, US regulators, such as the Coalition of Northeastern Governers’ Toxics in Packaging Clearinghouse and Europe’s packaging waste directive started to limit the use of heavy metals in ink.

Aside from the carcinogenic factor when handled, after the ink and its packaging are trashed or recycled, toxic ink can leach into groundwater. This can potentially result in health issues for wildlife and humans alike.

Ink poisoning doesn’t just occur when someone consumes the ink from a pen or gets a tattoo; toxicity from ink can seep into peoples lives in other ways as well.

As a conscious business leader, and a conscious consumer, here’s more information about this critical Catch-22.