End of life options should be considered carefully for any product.
End of life options should be considered carefully for any product and is part of the philosophy underlying sustainable materials management and the circular economy. Zero waste goals mean rethinking the raw materials used to make products, and a consideration and responsibility for the entire life-cycle of a product and it’s packaging.
Effective waste management is confusing, there are many different end-of-life options and what is appropriate for one type of material or waste, may not be for another. Further confusing the issue is all the different classifications and terminology one must understand to correctly sort waste and recycling, such ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable.’
Check out this guide to learn more about these terms, or read on below to learn about different end-of-life options for our materials.
The biggest problem with moving to more environmentally conscious ways of managing the waste generated by tattooing is that contaminated waste must be disposed of safely, and in some places there are health and safety laws that must be followed regarding this. In some places there are no regulations when it comes to the disposal of tattoo waste, but you must still manage it responsibly.
The materials our products are made of have more end-of-life options than other plastics, but that is not taking into account any health and safety regulations regarding tattoo waste.
In this guide we are going to look at the various end of life options for the materials we use to make our products. Some of these end-of-life options may not be viable ways of disposing our tattoo waste today, but they do open up new possibilities for our waste in future.
Compostability is a characteristic of a material that allows it to biodegrade under certain conditions (e.g. time frame, temperature), and break down completely without harming the environment. If something is considered a compostable material, it is capable of decomposing back into natural elements within a matter of months, as long as the specific conditions are present.
The end result of composting is carbon dioxide, water and humus, a soil nutrient. The results of this process are dependent on the temperature and humidity of the environment.
All of the materials we use come from nature and are designed to compost back to nature.
Our materials carry several compostability certifications from around the world including;
EN13432 (Europe) / ASTM6400 (USA) / AS4736 (Australia) / GreenPLA (Japan)
These certifications detail requirements for compostability and they apply to all components, inks and additives. They also include tests on ecotoxicity and heavy metal content, however they obviously do not take into account any regulations regarding tattoo waste.
There are two variants to compostability certification - industrially compostable or home compostable. Many industrially compostable products will not biodegrade in the often low temperature found in a home composting bin.
The material used to make our ink caps is certified as industrially compostable. The material used to make our equipment covers & packaging is certified as both home and industrially compostable.
All of the materials we use to make all our products and packaging is industrially compostable.
If the materials you are disposing of are industrially compostable, then in theory you can send them to an industrial composting facility. However, there are currently no regulations about sending potentially infectious tattoo waste to these facilities, even if it is a compostable material and tattoo waste is not classed as ‘hazardous’ or ‘offensive’ in the law where you live.
Another possible problem is that existing industrial composting facilities are unlikely to be adequately prepared to deal with the large quantities of bioplastic disposable products that the tattoo industry could potentially generate.
Our equipment coverings and packaging are industrially compostable, but they are also certified as home compostable, so in theory you could dispose of these in your home compost.
Although home compostable materials can be industrially composted, the benefits of managing this waste at home can help reduce environmental, and economic, impacts associated with kerbside collection, treatment and disposal of waste.
Home composting tips;
If you are home composting, it is important to remember than other organic waste must be used alongside bioplastics, like your equipment coverings, in order to facilitate the composting process
If possible, it is also suggested that you should shred bioplastics, like your equipment coverings, beforehand
ON-SITE INDUSTRIAL COMPOSTERS
Our equipment coverings and packaging are both home and industrially compostable, but the material we use to make our ink caps is only industrially compostable and will not break down efficiently in a home compost.
Materials that are certified as industrially compostable will only compost in facilities at temperatures between 55 to 60°C, so should not usually go into a home compost. However, The HOTBIN is an aerobic compost bin that gets really hot, to temperatures of between 40-60°c. This high temperature means that more types of waste can be composted than with traditional cold composting heaps, and in just 30-90 days too. As an added feature, the HOTBIN is also 100% recyclable!
I’ve been trailing the HOTBIN at my studio in London and I’ll let you know how it goes in the future!
The material we use to make our ink caps is recyclable, but the material we use to make our equipment coverings and packaging is only organically recyclable (compostable).
What makes the biopolymer that we use to make our ink caps exciting, is that it can be simply and economically recycled creating a true closed-loop; a bottle can be recycled to make another bottle, for example. This is unlike most traditional plastics which are usually downcycled into lower quality materials and will ultimately end their life in landfill. That being said, unless cleaned and sterilised beforehand, tattoo waste should not be sent with your recycling as you risk contaminating the waste stream, meaning it will all be redirected to landfill.
We can't really recycle our tattoo waste safely today, but recycling may not be an answer for the future either. Countries like the UK export over hald of its plastic for recycling, with no idea if it actually gets recycled when it reaches it’s destination. Furthermore, many Asian countries such as China have recently banned the import of recycling, so we must deal with our waste in a way that we can manage on our own, without relying on such systems that are just moving the problem around.
Incineration is a common end-of-life scenario for tattoo waste today and is also often used for other waste where infrastructure requires it.
In some countries tattoo waste is classified as hazardous or offensive, meaning you must have the appropriate waste management contracts in place, and this waste often has to be incinerated.
Incineration is actually one of the most eco-conscious ways of managing your waste today because you can find green waste management companies where waste-to-energy (WTE) incineration facilities are used (such as Stericycle in the UK),
These facilities use the steam/heat produced by the incineration process to generate electricity or heat. The process of modern ‘clean’ incineration facilities, produces residues of bottom ash, which is approximately 10% of the original volume of waste, and lime. These byproducts are collected for various other processes by third parties.
"Because of stringent regulations, waste incineration plants are no longer significant in terms of emissions of dioxins, dust, and heavy metals."- German Environmental Ministry
Landfill is where most of our general household waste goes and is also another common end-of-life scenario for tattoo waste today, where there are no local health and safety laws regarding safe disposal. Landfill is probably the least eco-conscious way of disposing of your waste. This is because the materials aren’t going to break down efficiently, they could pollute the environment, plus they are likely to still be there hundreds of years later.
Even though the materials we use to make our products are designed to be composted and returned naturally to the Earth, our products will not break down efficiently in a conventional landfill, but neither does anything else! Landfill does not offer the necessary climate to compost, so it is unlikely that any compostable material will biodegrade.
This is because the the majority of landfills are modern anaerobic (air-locked) landfills. When any compostable or biodegradable waste is placed in an anaerobic environment and deprived of oxygen and the existence of the micro-organisms that “eat” naturally biodegradable materials, their ability to decompose will be severely restricted. This is true of all biodegradable materials placed in this setting, including paper, yard waste, and food waste.
These modern landfills are designed to safely entomb waste and to protect the environment from the liquids and gases that are produced during the very slow breakdown of waste. The impediment of degradation is because the lack of exposure to air, water and sunlight which is needed for degradation. Therefore, by design, modern landfills greatly retard the degradation process to reduce the by-products that might otherwise contaminate groundwater and the air.
All that being said, even if compostable materials do end up in landfill they are still always better than their fossil-fuel based alternatives. This is because some of the huge environmental benefits of these materials starts at the very beginning - they aren’t derived from fossil-fuels, they’re sustainable, and the manufacturing process is less damaging to the environment compared to that of traditional plastic products.
Test data also confirms that the material used to make our equipment covers and packaging will biodegrade in nature in a relatively short space of time, even in a marine environment, which is unlike most other materials.
Disposing of our waste in the ocean is obviously not an eco-conscious or responsible way of managing it and such properties cannot be used as an excuse to dump our waste into the environment. However, there is a chance your waste could end up there so the marine biodegradation properties of our materials are interesting and important to note.
So, what are the best end-of-life options for plant-based supplies and other tattoo waste?
We probably can’t dispose of our tattoo waste exactly how we’d like to just yet, but health and safety regulations cannot be ignored, else we risk other damaging implications.
Incineration or landfill are the two most common end-of-life scenarios for tattoo waste around the world today. Clean incineration is a better choice than landfill because the waste will go on to be used for other purposes, whereas in a landfill the waste could still be there hundreds of years later and may even find it’s way out into the environment.
Composting plant-based tattoo supplies is hopefully the future, but currently implementing the use of a green waste management company would be the most eco-conscious and responsible option for managing all of your tattoo waste, not just our compostable products. Make sure to look for a company that offers WTE incineration and a zero to landfill policy.
Even though many of us may not be able to compost our tattoo waste just yet, the compostability certifications are still really important because to be certified as compostable a material must be 100% organic matter. In other words, if something is certified as compostable, that also means that it is an entirely natural material (plant-based) and does not contain any other toxic materials (plastic-free, fossil-fuel free).
Before you get disheartened at the lack of options available to dispose of tattoo waste, it’s important to remember that some of the huge environmental advantages of our products start at the beginning - they help keep fossil fuels in the ground because they are made from plants not oil, and they are sustainable because they are produced from annually renewable resources.
Even if our products do end up in landfill they are still better by every measure than their traditional fossil-fuel based plastic alternatives.
Furthermore, due to the properties and performance of plant-based and sustainable materials, rather than being considered a simple replacement for traditional plastics they could be seen as an opportunity to redesign the entire system, focusing attention on the efficient use and recovery of the resources.
In other words, by introducing new products and materials into the system, we open opportunities to reconsider the entire system, including what happens to our materials after use.
I am a tattoo artist, not a scientist, and this is written from my own research. I hope you found it helpful!