Nowadays, printers are as much a part of the household as cookers and coffee machines. The number of used printer cartridges is correspondingly high. A proportion of empty cartridges are refilled with toner, but even so, around 1200 tonnes of printer/copier cartridges are disposed of in Switzerland every year.
Unlike cookers and coffee machines, printer cartridges present problems when it comes to disposal. This is due to the dusty consistency of the toner powder, which is released into the environment when the cartridges are dismantled. The toner powder can build up in the waste incinerator plant storage bunkers and cause dust explosions. Moreover, from an ecological point of view, toner cartridges should ideally not be incinerated, but taken apart to recover recyclable materials.
Recycling made possible
In 2015, the company IMMARK AG in Regensdorf (canton of Zurich), which specialises in the recycling of electrical appliances, started up an innovative disposal plant for toner cartridges. The company’s plant not only disposes of toner cartridges safely, but also succeeds in recycling a substantial proportion of the materials. The recovery of plastics and metals (iron, copper) enables a recycling percentage of 66% to be achieved. This unique disposal plant has been given financial support from the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN).
The new disposal process uses an additive that adheres to the toner powder and binds the dust-like particles. Moreover, the plant is designed to ensure that even if a small explosion does occur, there is no damage to the machinery. The IMMARK specialists are currently working on a way to recycle the toner-additive mixture, focusing on the building industry as potential users. If this idea proves successful it will push the recycling percentage up to 90%.
Swiss waste disposal expertise
Today, almost half of the toner cassettes disposed of in Switzerland are properly dismantled in Regensdorf and the components put forward for recycling.
In the coming years, the proportion of recycled toner cartridges will increase further thanks to the new process. This Swiss innovation is also attracting attention abroad. The company, which has a workforce of 80, has received enquiries from German and U.S. companies interested in replicating the Swiss toner recycling plant in their own countries.
Exporting technology know-how abroad is nothing new for IMMARK. “Ever since the company was founded in 1986 we have been pioneers in environmentally friendly waste recycling and disposal,” says managing director Sabine Krattiger. In recent years, her company has exported disposal plants to various European companies, and even China. Expertise from the canton of Zurich is making a substantial contribution to closing material cycles globally.