We want to end the single use of resources and utilize them more effectively.
The recycling of plastics has become a recent topic globally. Canon, however, has long been a leader in this area, with such innovations as developing and installing equipment that automates toner cartridge recycling. In this volume, we introduce four people who both pioneer Canon's toner cartridge recycling and are spearheading its further evolution.
We work to address worldwide needs to create circular economy.
Canon was the first company to launch a toner cartridge recycling program. Tatsuhiko Chiba works at the planning department that manages the program globally. He explained the overall picture, including how the program came to be, and the future prospects of the program.
“Canon has built out a toner cartridge recycling program in which we both collect and recycle used cartridges ourselves.” Chiba said.
In 1990, Canon started used toner cartridge collection program in three countries: the U.S., Germany, and Japan. It has been extended to 23 countries globally.
“We believe the best approach is to recycle toner cartridges locally in the area where we sold them. This approach may reduce both environmental impacts and transportation costs at the same time.”
Just as Chiba described, Canon has built recycling sites in four countries — Japan, the U.S., France, and China — and made the process to recycle used cartridges at each market.
Plastic recycling generally degrades the purity of the plastic during the recycling process. This, in turn, lowers the functionality and quality of the recycled material. Consequently, the recycled material cannot be used in the original product again and is ultimately destroyed (so-called down-recycling).
Canon, however, has achieved closed-loop recycling that does not lower the functionality or quality of the recycled plastic material, enabling recycled material to be used repeatedly in the same products. Chiba explained this further.
“In general, down-cycling is common solution, but we believe closed-loop recycling is the ideal recycling process for plastics. The reason is that with closed-loop recycling we can greatly extend the lifetime of plastic.”
Although recycling plastic is a difficult challenge, Canon pursues the ideal recycling process to consider recycling from the product design stage as well as to improve recycling process by our own technologies at our recycling sites.
Canon has built up the current recycling program over many years through the pursuit and accumulation of innovative technologies and new collection methods.
Chiba described the significance of recycling in his own words.
“The need for resource recycling and circulation has escalated globally on the back of the single-use plastic problem. Given this situation, I feel our role is to apply Canon's state-of-the-art recycling technologies to tackle these social issues.”
We arrange various collection routes to collect as many cartridges as possible.
Canon has implemented various collection routes tailored to customer needs in order to collect as many used toner cartridges as possible. Mr. Masaya Saito from Canon Marketing Japan works to promote toner cartridge collection programs in Japan. He explained Canon's innovations on the transportation of used toner cartridges.
“Our role is to collect used toner cartridges from customers and transport them to Canon's recycling plants in Japan.” Saito said. Canon collects used toner cartridges as resources with value.
Our first toner cartridge collection program began with volume box return service in Japan. The way the initial program worked, Canon sent out empty boxes to customers, who placed them. When the boxes were full with used toner cartridges, the customer would send the boxes back to Canon. However, some customers, especially those with small offices and stores, complained that the collection boxes took up too much space. Saito explained how Canon addressed these complaints.
“We introduced one single used toner cartridge collection process which our customers don't need to keep certain space.”
Today, Canon has put in place a wide variety of collection services tailored to customer needs, such as delivery new toner cartridge and pick-up used toner cartridge at the same time, a program described below.
“The next issue was the low collection rate. At that time, many people considered used toner cartridges as nothing more than rubbish. But we continued to explain our customers about our collection program which makes new valuable resource from used toner cartridges. Our customers are now more aware of them and the number of returned used toner cartridges has steadily increased.”
The increasing collection volumes brought with them another issue: How to collect used toner cartridges more efficiently? One answer is to deliver new toner cartridge and to pick up used toner cartridge at the same time. Saito explained the benefits of the service.
“Making collections during deliveries cuts down on the number of courier visits, which reduces CO2 emissions generated by logistics operations. The used toner cartridge is simply inserted in the box that had held the new toner cartridge. Reusing boxes also saves resources, since there is no need to arrange separate collection boxes.”
By improving logistics operations, we could achieve to reduce environmental impact as well.
Our activities are not only collecting used toner cartridge, but also contributing to social responsibility.
We promote collaborations with some social responsibility activities such as Furusato Project*1 and the Bellmark campaign*2. By making donations based on the number of collecting used toner cartridges, we believe to get more people involved in recycling programs.
“We want to support and sustain these programs through our role of collecting used toner cartridges from customers. We encourage everyone to get behind these activities and to help us continue them.”
*1 Furusato Project : Donation to local environmental NPO
*2 Bellmark campaign: Donation to school activity
We develop better recycling technology to recycle higher volume of resources.
To realize the closed-loop recycling of toner cartridges, it is required to extract high-purity materials. We talked to Yukihiro Uekita, who is in charge of material recycling technologies, about how Canon sorts out and recycles materials.
Toner cartridges consist of many kinds of materials, including plastic, iron and aluminum. Even just the plastic comprises several types of plastic. Canon has developed technologies and equipment that sort out and extract HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene), a type of plastic used to make the housing of cartridge.
The HIPS is reused in new toner cartridges. Other sorted materials are reused for other purposes or thermal recovery, so landfill-free is launched. Uekita elaborated.
“Collected toner cartridges are mechanically crushed after being taken out of their boxes. Once crushed, we sort out the materials using the characteristic differences between each material.”
For example, iron materials are removed by magnetic power, eddy electric currents are used to remove aluminum, and rubber is sorted out using the static electricity, which makes electromagnetic power.
By combining multiple technologies and processes, it is possible to sort out each kind of raw materials.
CARS-T (Canon Automated Recycling System for Toner cartridges), developed for recycling operation in Japan, can automatically process toner cartridges all the way from crushing to HIPS extraction. CARS-T automation has dramatically boosted processing volumes and achieved more efficient recycling than in the past.
“There is still plenty of room, in my opinion, to further improve plastic recycling processes,”
Uekita said while examining residues after a separation process.
“For example, after the toner cartridges are crushed, iron materials are removed by magnetic power. The problem is some HIPS remains stuck to the iron and they are removed together.”
In theory, it should be possible to perfectly sort out materials at each step. However, the reality is not like that.
“My goal is to increase the HIPS yield and maximize the use of resources by improvement of sorting process.”
In line with his goal, Uekita is now challenging to achieve more advanced recycling systems.
Improving sorting technologies is not the only necessary component to achieving more efficient recycling. Also important is taking recycling into account from the design stage. Uekita explained.
“Initiatives such as designing products with fewer types of plastic or for easier disassembly will significantly boost recycling efficiencies.”
We have opportunity to discuss more efficient recycling process together with development engineers. As a result, we have made recycling-conscious design guidance such as to use limited types of plastic.
We want to realize the ultimate goal of closed loop recycling together with development engineers.
Our new concept is changing the image of a recycling plant.
The Canon Eco Technology Park in Ibaraki Prefecture recycles toner cartridges collected from Japanese market. The plant was revamped in 2018 under the newly devised “Clean & Silent” concept. We spoke to Hiroshi Horie from the Production Division of Canon Ecology Industry,* who continues to seek out the ideal plant based on this concept.
*Canon Ecology Industry Inc. operates the recycling business at the Canon Eco Technology Park.
“This is the only site in Japan that both recycles and reuses used Canon products.”
Canon Eco Technology Park extracts many materials from used products. By continuing to recycle and reuse these materials, the plant aims to maximizing resource efficiency.
In 2018, we made a plant field trip course to watch the plant's recycling processes as well as opened a showroom for people to learn about recycling principles and mechanisms. As a result, local elementary school children and many other visitors have toured Eco Technology Park.
Horie explained the plant's aim.
"The conventional thinking of a toner cartridge recycling plant is that scattering some toner is inevitable and that it's obvious crushing will cause noise. If we accept this thinking, however, we will never achieve the ideal plant. So, we continue our efforts to achieve a clean and silent plant.”
The first place that toner scatters is after the boxes are opened and the cartridges are fed into the crushing step. Many toner cartridges have toner residue on their surfaces when extracted from their boxes. We eliminated this source by designing and installing a new toner dust collector. We have devised many other inventions to stop toner scattering from inside cartridges, such as constructing enclosed conveyors designed not to produce any vibrations. Through these continuous improvements, we could achieve a clean plant.
First major source of loud noise is air nozzles. To deal with these, we constructed a new soundproof room to avoid noise from air nozzles. Second is crusher units, and we installed it into the CARS-T. As a result, we eliminated as much noise as possible from the spaces where people work.
Horie described future challenges.
“We process a huge number of toner cartridges every day. To continue recycling, we need to elevate efficiencies in addition to improving the plant's working environment.”
Currently, parts of the preprocess before the CARS-T line are done manually. Plans are to continue automating these processes as well to help boost the efficiency of the overall recycling process.
We aim to achieve an ideal recycling system and one example is closed-loop recycling. To reach this goal, we need to harmonize whole processes like product designing, manufacturing, collection, and recycling.
Canon commits to promote effective use of the planet's limited resources and to help construct circular economy.
We introduce Canon's activities through a framework featuring elements of an integrated report.
The project highlights the cycle of life through various activities conducted at Canon sites around the world.