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Printmaking, an art form that allows artists to transfer their creative ideas onto paper using various techniques, heavily relies on the use of lino for producing high-quality, textured prints. Over time, these lino sheets can degrade, become brittle or simply fall out of use, leading to the necessity of disposal. However, given the environmental challenges our world is facing, it is vital to discard these materials responsibly, ideally, through recycling or reusing.


The information in this article is intended for general informational purposes and is based on sources believed to be reliable. However, the accuracy, completeness, or applicability of the information is not guaranteed. Practices regarding recycling and waste disposal can vary by location and change over time. Always consult local regulations and product instructions for accurate information. The author and publisher disclaim responsibility for any adverse effects resulting from the use of the information herein.

Printmaking and The Environment Guide

The Natural vs. Synthetic Linos

Before delving into the methods of disposal, let’s first familiarise ourselves with the types of linos used in printmaking – Natural Lino and Synthetic Lino.

Natural Lino

Natural lino, also known as linoleum, is an eco-friendly material manufactured from renewable resources. Its composition includes linseed oil, pine rosin, cork dust, wood flour, and a jute backing, all elements that stem from nature. Linseed oil is the key ingredient, which is obtained from the dried ripe seeds of the flax plant.

Benefits of using natural lino include:

  1. It’s a durable material that doesn’t wear out quickly.
  2. Natural lino provides a firm surface for detailed carving.
  3. It’s biodegradable and doesn’t release harmful chemicals when decomposed.

Synthetic Lino

Synthetic lino is a petroleum-based product made from non-renewable resources. It includes materials like PVC (polyvinyl chloride), fillers, plasticisers, and other synthetic components.

Advantages of synthetic lino:

  1. It’s typically softer and easier to carve than natural lino.
  2. It can be found in various colours which can be beneficial for different design aesthetics.
  3. It’s less prone to crumbling or chipping.

Comparison of Different Styles of Printmaking Lino

Printmaking lino’s come in a variety of styles, each offering its unique advantages and potential challenges. Below is a table comparing the main features of several popular styles:

Natural LinoSoftCut LinoEasy-Cut LinoClear-Cut Lino
MaterialLinseed oil, pine rosin, cork dust, wood flour, juteSynthetic rubber compoundSynthetic rubber compoundTransparent synthetic material
Ease of CarvingHigh level of firmness, requires more strength and skill to carveVery easy to carve, ideal for beginnersExtremely easy to carve, best for children and beginnersEasy to carve, clear material allows for precision
Detail LevelHigh detail level, excellent for intricate designsMedium detail level, better for simpler designsLow detail level, may not hold fine lines wellHigh detail level, transparency allows for accurate carving
DurabilityHighly durable, does not crumble or break easilyLess durable, can crumble with rough handlingLess durable, tends to crumble or break with rough handlingHighly durable, resistant to crumbling
Eco-friendlinessBiodegradable but not recyclableNon-biodegradable and usually non-recyclableNon-biodegradable and usually non-recyclableNon-biodegradable and usually non-recyclable
Best Used ForProfessional printmaking, detailed and intricate designsSchool projects, beginners learning basic carving techniquesChildren’s projects, beginners learning basic carving techniquesDetailed designs, projects requiring precise alignment
Physical TraitsRough, firm texture, natural earthy or brownish colourSoft, flexible, typically grey or whiteExtremely soft, pliable, typically blue or bright coloursRigid yet flexible, transparent or semi-transparent

It’s essential to choose the right type of lino based on the intricacy of your design, your skill level, and your personal preferences. Regardless of the lino you choose, remember to follow the appropriate disposal methods to minimise environmental impact.

Disposing of Lino: The Environmental Considerations

When it comes to disposing of old lino, it’s crucial to be mindful of the environmental impact. Not all lino types are made equal, especially regarding their recyclability and biodegradability. Below is a simple comparison table to help visualise the traits of each material:

Natural LinoSynthetic Lino

*Note: Although synthetic lino is technically recyclable, not all recycling facilities accept it due to its complex composition. It’s recommended to check with local services before attempting to recycle synthetic lino.

Disposing of Natural Lino

Natural lino, as a biodegradable material, will eventually break down over time in a landfill. However, due to the lack of oxygen in landfill conditions, this process can take many years and might produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Despite the fact that natural lino can’t be conventionally recycled, it can be repurposed or reused in a variety of ways:

  1. Craft Projects: Old lino can be used for a variety of crafts and DIY projects around the home. It can also be donated to schools or art programs for use in their own projects.
  2. Alternative Uses: Pieces of old lino can be useful in the garden as plant markers or for scraping soil off gardening tools.
  3. Incineration: Since natural lino is composed of organic materials, it can be safely incinerated. The linseed oil content provides high-energy value, which can be harnessed as a heat source in industrial applications.

Disposing of Synthetic Lino

Disposing of synthetic lino is more challenging due to its non-biodegradable nature. Here’s how you can handle synthetic lino disposal:

  1. Recycling: Some recycling facilities accept synthetic lino. It’s crucial to check the guidelines provided by your local recycling service before placing your synthetic lino in the recycle bin.
  2. Landfill: If recycling is not an option, synthetic lino will have to be disposed of in a landfill. However, remember that synthetic lino does not decompose, contributing to the persistent problem of plastic waste.
  3. Reuse: Like natural lino, synthetic lino can also be reused or repurposed for various uses, particularly due to its durability and versatility.

Biodegradable vs. Compostable: Understanding the Difference

When discussing eco-friendly materials and responsible waste disposal, the terms ‘biodegradable‘ and ‘compostable‘ often come into play. While they may seem interchangeable at a glance, they actually signify different processes and outcomes, and understanding this distinction is key to disposing of materials responsibly.


A material is classified as biodegradable if it can be broken down naturally by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi, eventually returning to nature. This process does not have a specific time frame and can vary greatly depending on the type of material and environmental conditions.

Biodegradation can occur in various environments, including water, soil, and even landfill conditions. However, in an oxygen-deprived landfill, biodegradation can generate methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

One critical aspect to note is that ‘biodegradable’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘eco-friendly’. Some biodegradable products can break down into smaller pieces, but leave behind harmful residues.


Compostable materials not only break down but also disintegrate entirely and quickly under specific conditions, typically in a composting environment. Importantly, they degrade into nutrient-rich compost, adding beneficial material back into the environment.

Composting requires certain conditions, including the presence of heat, moisture, and air. These conditions, combined with the work of microorganisms, enable the material to break down within a few weeks to several months.

Unlike biodegradable items, compostable materials leave no toxic residue behind. They break down to form a substance called humus, which enriches soil and contributes to improved plant growth.

To sum it up, while both biodegradable and compostable materials can break down and return to the environment, compostable materials do so in a more eco-friendly and beneficial manner, providing valuable nutrients back to the earth. Understanding these differences can help guide responsible disposal practices and promote more sustainable choices.

To conclude, thoughtful disposal of lino not only prevents unnecessary waste but also helps to create a sustainable environment for future generations. Whether it’s natural or synthetic, there are ways to discard your old lino responsibly. And remember, when in doubt, opt for reuse or repurposing before consigning your lino to the waste bin.

Luke Hickman is a printmaker and artist with over 15 years of experience. He studied at Norwich University, graduating with a BA (Hons) Fine Art, and has worked in both the commercial printing and digital marketing industries for over 7 years. Luke's work revolves around the idea of creating art that can illustrate a story with topics covering war, politics and history.

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