Researchers at the University of New South Wales have developed a process for retrieving iron from discarded used toner cartridges.

According to the European Toner and Inkjet Remanufacturers Association, approximately 500 million used printer cartridges end up in landfills each year, worldwide. Although supposedly empty, each of these cartridges can still contain up to 8% residual toner by weight.

This is not only a waste but the toner, which contains toxic materials, can leach into the soil.

The researchers, led by Dr Vaibhav Gaikwad, have developed a method of recycling the toner to retrieve iron.

The toner powder is placed in a furnace, where it was heated to 1,550 °C. This converts the material’s inherent iron oxide into 98% pure iron, using polymer resins present within the powder as a source of carbon. The high temperature prevents toxic byproducts from forming.

Because iron and steel are manufactured at similar temperatures to those used for the recycling process, the researchers believe the process could be carried out in the same facilities, at the same time.