How to Reduce, Reuse, and
Recycle Lithographic Ink Wastes
Ink waste creates a disposal cost for the printer, but also represents a less than
optimum use of purchased raw materials. In the extremely competitive world of commercial
printing, reducing ink wastes and their costs just makes good business sense.
This fact sheet discusses several ink management techniques that increase the
opportunities to prevent, reuse, and recycle waste ink. A list of ink recycling service
providers is also included.
Managing Ink Waste
Most lithographic inks are not classified as hazardous wastes under state and federal
regulations. The exception is if an ink contains pigments with heavy metals (for example,
cadmium, lead or chromium), or if the ink is mixed with solvents classified as hazardous
wastes. Proper disposal of ink wastes can be expensive, but is necessary to meet
regulatory compliance requirements, and at least as importantly, to minimize liabilities
faced by a printer. To be landfilled, waste ink must be in a non-liquid state or otherwise
Many printers dispose of their inks by sending them to a fuel-blending service, which
combines and forwards these and other wastes for burning at industrial boilers or kilns.
Burning the inks reduces the potential exposure to litigation and cleanup costs to which a
printer could otherwise be exposed if a landfill is used and it experiences groundwater
Whether waste inks are burned or landfilled, costs can be reduced by minimizing the
generation of ink wastes and internally re-using inks whenever possible. Recycling
services can sometimes be used to reclaim remaining waste inks, although presently these
services are more practical for web press operations, especially those with larger amounts
of waste inks. Whether ink can be reused or recycled is dependent upon the quality of the
ink waste that is generated. Waste ink can typically be classified in one of the following
- Uncontaminated, excess ink - this category includes ink that has not been used in the
press fountain. Although it can be recycled, reuse of this ink is usually a more
cost-effective means of managing it.
- Contaminated, combined ink - this ink has been used in the press fountain and is
commonly contaminated with paper fibers, solvents, or other colors of ink. For these inks
to be recycled, they typically must be filtered, reconditioned and reblended. The
remainder of this fact sheet addresses strategies for reducing ink wastes, internally
reusing inks whenever possible, and using recycling services for remaining inks when use
of these services is technically and economically practical.
Reducing The Volume of Ink Waste Generated
There are many practical ways for sheetfed and web lithographic printers to reduce the
volume of waste ink generated:
- Help press operators to accurately estimate the amount of ink needed for each job
through training in ink estimating techniques. Keep accurate records of the quantity of
ink that is used for specific jobs, particularly for repeat customers' jobs or re-orders.
- Use a standard ink sequence - from light to dark ink.
- Monitor your ink inventory and use existing stock according to the "first in -
first out" strategy. Test any out-of-date ink for usability before you consider it
- Carefully label, log, and store special-order colors for future use rather than dumping
them into waste ink drums.
- Donate ink that you no longer use to schools, or give the ink to other printers, rather
than pay for disposal. (Colleges, universities and vocational/tech schools with graphic
arts programs often have small on-site print shops.)
- Use an automatic ink leveler to maintain the desired ink level in the fountain.
- Dedicate presses to specific colors or special inks to decrease the number of cleanings
required for each press.
- Keep in communication with ink suppliers regarding proper use and handling procedures
for their inks.
Ink Management Techniques for Better Reuse and Recycling Opportunities
To maximize the opportunities for ink reuse and recycling:
- Do not mix small quantities of leftover or obsolete inks with different colors of ink.
- Keep different types of ink separate.
- Store excess ink in properly sealed and labeled containers. Place plastic or waxed paper
on top of sheetfed ink, and/or spray the ink with an anti-skinning agent, or cover the ink
with an oil consistent with printing inks to prevent oxidation.
- Do not dip knives deeply into sheetfed inks. Removing the ink evenly from the top
surface of the ink can reduces the surface area of the ink exposed to oxidation.
- Transfer used ink back to the original empty containers and prevent drying by keeping
the ink containers sealed.
- Clearly mark the containers used to collect waste ink to prevent mistakenly discarding
it. Avoid contamination with solvents and trash (e.g., floor sweepings, cigarette butts,
Don't treat excess ink as waste. Instead, manage it like a manufacturing
by-product that should be re-introduced, as much as possible, back into the manufacturing
Reusing Excess Ink
Excess ink results from overestimating ink usage at the press or at the time of ink
purchase. Whenever possible, return unopened cans of excess ink to the supplier. Reusing
excess ink in one of the manners described below can reduce both your virgin ink
purchasing costs and your waste ink disposal costs: Mix excess ink, including black and/or
colored inks, on-site to produce usable ink. Many printers like the quality of the black
ink produced from mixing colored inks, because the colored inks are of such a high quality
which produces a richer, darker black tone. Mix excess ink with virgin ink of the same
color, provided that the excess ink is contaminant-free. Use a computer software program,
such as "The MixMaster" to keep track of ink in your inventory and to produce
recipes for needed PMS colors from excess ink in stock. If volume is large enough,
consider installing a computerized color match system equipped with color scanners.
Recycling Waste Ink
Ink recyclers take waste inks and reprocess them, along with necessary additives, to
make recycled ink. Opportunities for recycling web offset inks are growing, but are
currently very limited for sheetfed inks. Consider the following advantages to recycling
- The cost of fuel-blending or landfilling the ink can be avoided. The avoided cost
typically results in a savings of $100 to $200 per 55-gallon drum.
- Liability associated with ink disposal is minimized.
- The recycled ink meets new ink specifications and is available to you at a savings
compared to new ink prices.
- Business with environmentally sensitive customers may increase, if they are aware that
Typically, ink recycling service providers filter the ink to remove impurities, mix the
ink with oil or otherwise adjust its physical characteristics. Some blend the recycled ink
with new ink to ensure that product specifications are being satisfied. Some ink recyclers
will mix colored inks to produce black inks. Others have the capability of recycling color
for color, if large volumes of colored ink are generated. Most ink recyclers will return
your recycled ink to you.
Some service providers will accept ink for recycling which is not returned, but sold to
Current Status of the Availability of Ink Recycling Service Providers
On behalf of PNEAC, SHWEC has identified ink recyclers that serve printers located
throughout the United States and Canada. Most of these companies offer recycling services
for both heatset and non-heatset inks from web presses.
Economies of scale associated with ink volumes affect the feasibility of recycling.
Therefore, accumulating a large quantity of waste ink reduces the cost of recycling the
ink on a per pound or per drum basis. However, as demand increases, and the technology for
processing sheetfed ink improves, it is likely that the availability and affordability of
sheetfed ink recycling will increase.
Another limitation on the recycling of sheetfed inks is the difficulty of removing
"skinning" layers, which are caused by drying agents in the ink. Removing and
disposing of each "skin," or dry layer, is necessary to recycle ink in some
processes; however, the process is labor intensive, and reduces the overall volume of ink
available for recycling. "Skinning" can be prevented by placing an anti-oxidant
material in waste sheetfed ink drums, or by covering the ink with a thin layer (1/2 inch)
of oil that is compatible with the ink.
Printers that are successfully reusing and recycling lithographic ink include General
Litho Services in Minneapolis, MN and Quad Graphics, headquartered in Pewaukee, WI. These
companies are saving money, improving shop productivity, and reducing environmental
liability through reducing ink wastes.
The following list is provided solely as a service to printers desiring more
information about recycling lithographic inks. The information is voluntarily supplied and
listed alphabetically. It is not necessarily a complete list of available services or
suppliers and does not represent an endorsement by SHWEC or PNEAC.
By providing the list, neither SHWEC nor PNEAC represents that the companies listed are
or are not in compliance with applicable laws. Users of this list should use appropriate
caution and discretion in assuring that providers of ink recycling services follow
applicable federal and state laws when transporting and processing ink.
||Reported Cost*(as of 5/98)
|Envirecycle Ink Recovery
7854 S. 12th Ave.
Bloomington, MN 55420
Contact: Mary Capra
(612) 854-5663 fax
Heatset and non-heatset web, UV, and water-based flexographic.
Heatset and non-heatset web
Mixed colors to black; black to black; (color to color off-site)
On-site: centrifuge and filter-based system.
(Canada served off-site only)
400 lbs or 1 drum
9000 lb or 20 drums
Recycled ink costs 10 to 20% less per pound than comparable new ink.
Ink reclamation costs $.55 per lb. Modifying the ink for direct use on the press by
adding raw materials costs an additional $.25 to .55 per lb.
|Pro Active Recycling
1180 20th St. E.
P.O. Box 368
Owen Sound, Ontario Canada N4K 5P5
908 Niagra Falls Blvd
N. Tonawanda, NY 14120-2060
(519) 371-7198 fax
|Web heatset and non-heatset.
Mixed colors to black; black to black; color to color.
|Centrifuge and filter-based.
Processed on-site in trucks or off-site
Quality checked and returned.
|Canada, Eastern and Central U.S.
||200 gal/month depending on existing services provided in your area.
||Recycled ink costs are approximately 66% of virgin black or 50% of virgin color ink
Price negotiated on volume.
No bulking or blending with virgin inks.
800 Vinial St.
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
Mike or Katie Jones
(412) 323-1734 fax
|Web heatset and non-heatset litho, incl. newspaper.
Publication gravure also.
Mixed colors to black; black to black; color to color
Filtration on-site for gravure.
Returned if desired.
||Litho: 4 drums
Gravure: 10 drums.
|Recycled ink costs are comparable with virgin ink costs.
|Worldwide Environmental Systems (WECORP)
112 Bedford Rd. Suite 116
Bedford, TX 76022
Contact: James Meehan
(817) 590-2902 fax
|Heatset and non-heatset litho
Mixed colors to black; black to black.
|Centrifuge and filtration based
||Off-site: 450 lbs or 1 drum
On-site: 5000 lbs.
|Off-site: Recycled ink costs 10 to 20% less per pound than comparable raw ink.
On-site: Ink reclamation costs $0.50/lb. Reclaiming the ink up to a full press ready
product by adding raw materials adds $0.20 - 0.50/lb. (As of 5/99)
*Additional savings result from avoiding disposal costs for used ink.
Prepared by: Wayne Pferdehirt, Waste Reduction and Management Specialist, SHWEC.
Assisted by Dan Boehm, Danelle Kratzer, Kristin Andersen and Robert Gifford. SHWEC
For more information, contact the University of Wisconsin-Extension, Solid and
Hazardous Waste Education Center (SHWEC) at 610 Langdon Street, Rm. 529, Madison, WI
53703. Telephone: 608/262-0385, Fax: 608/262-6250.
Last Updated: May, 1999.