Toner, a black spot for the circular economy

Home printing is becoming more and more popular. For a few years now, it’s no longer necessary to look for a nearby location dedicated to this activity, a trend that has led to a very noticeable increase in ink cartridges ending up in containers. Juan Felipe OberoCanon’s ITGC Country Manager in Iberia, confirms that since 1990, when they launched the first recycling program for this product, they have been collecting “440,000 tons of this productwhich is about 16 times the weight of the Statue of Liberty.” Companies and entities collaborate on various recycling operations to try to recover most of these components. The goal is to prevent them from ending up in landfills.when material consumption and sustainability can be improved by recovering it.

Ink and toner cartridges are made of different materials, so it is necessary to implement separation system. The former contains plastic, iron, aluminum, and ink, while the latter contains tonera particle that has not yet been found for a second sustainable use and that usually ends up becoming fuel through combustion processes in specialized plants.

Recyclia, one of the main entities in Spain dedicated to the collection and selective recycling of electrical and electronic equipment and devices, decided to launch a project in 2018 that they called Ink hole / ink hole As a result of the approval of the European regulation these printing products are electronic. “We created a specific network to prevent cartridges from being thrown into the same container as computers or tablets, with the goal of taking back all of these products,” he says. Jose PerezCEO of Recyclia.

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They currently have more than 18,000 collection points across Spain from where they are transported to separation plants. From there, they are taken to specific processing spaces for each material. The goal is to give a second life to these hard-to-remove components.. “All the plastic will end up in plastic processing plants, where they can make a new bottle, for example,” Perez explains.

However, this is not the only way out that can be given to them. There are some things that can be salvaged and can be reused directly. He notes that “a lot can be brought back to the market, by other types of companies that are dedicated to reclaiming them to reintroduce them as private label, that is, as alternative products.” Count PaulDirector of Waste Zero World. “All you need is the original cartridge, which is already depleted, to refill it, change the necessary parts and sell it again,” he explains.

In January 2019, this company opened a flagship factory in Parla, Madrid, for Comprehensive ink cartridge management. But beyond energy recovery, the challenge of giving toner a new sustainable life still hangs. An element that can be harmful to human health and, in addition to its high cost of treatment, is also highly hazardous due to the risk of flammability and explosion.

However, the growing popular environmental awareness has led many companies and entities to accelerate their efforts to seek acquiring Environmentally friendly outlet This is the inherent black spot of the circular economy. Among other reuse options, possibilities have been raised such as converting it into a component of reflective paints or using it in road paving.

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In progress

In this renovation process, they from Recyclia proposed to researchers from the University of Oviedo to carry out a research and development project to find solutions to this problem. After a year of searching, they came to this conclusion This toner can act as a high zinc water purifier. As they believe, he explains Juan Maria Menendez, Professor at the Department of Mining and Exploration Exploration at the University of Oviedo, which can be used for 3D printing, although it has not yet been explored in depth. For now, the project is stalled in the labs. Both entities are seeking financing at the European level to move to the next stage. “An experimental facility should be built in which a few dozen kilograms per hour can be processed and the feasibility of the results tested,” Menendez says.

If the results are positive, it can be taken to an industrial scale to give a second life to those remains without the need for incineration. “We continue to work with the university to introduce an application for this toner and that it does not go into re-evaluation of energy or combustion,” says Jose Perez.

The high consumption of cartridges for different types of printers has led to the need to create a system to prevent them from ending up in landfills. however, The companies have not yet achieved the economic revaluationBecause they are all very expensive treatments. “It doesn’t give any economic benefits, it’s still a cost,” says Jose Perez.

According to Recyclia’s calculations, they managed to collect “approximately 600,000 kilograms of toner and toner cartridges, which is the equivalent of More than 1,300,000 units of this product. From the entity they ensure that the sustainable mindset has permeated the majority of the society. In four years, they’ve gone from having 3,000 collection points to over 18,000 due to the high demand for their service. “We have been very well received, and there is a high level of awareness among all involved,” concludes Recyclia’s CEO.

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