The materials we use to make our products have more end-of-life options than any other plastic material, but these are not taking into account any contamination or health and safety regulations that could affect your options.
Effective waste management is confusing, there are many different end-of-life options, but what is appropriate for one material or type of 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 as ‘hazardous’ and ‘offensive’ or ‘biodegradable’ and ‘compostable.’ Check out our guide about biodegradability and compostability to learn more about those terms, or read on below to learn about different end-of-life options.
All of our products come from nature and are designed to compost back to nature. Our ink caps are industrially compostable, and our equipment coverings and packaging are both home and industrially compostable.
All of our products come from nature and are designed to compost back to nature.
The biopolymer used to make our ink caps, which is primarily made from polylactic acid (PLA), can be sent to industrial composting facilities where it will undergo a two-step degradation process. Stage One is disintegration - the moisture and heat in the compost pile split the polymer chains apart, creating smaller polymers, and finally lactic acid. Stage Two is biodegradation - microorganisms in compost and soil consume the smaller polymer fragments and lactic acid as nutrients. Since lactic acid is widely found in nature (it’s the building block of your ink caps too), a large number of organisms metabolize it.
All of our products and packaging carry the European standard EN 13432 certification, which is the standard that details requirements for biodegradability and compostability. This applies to all components, inks and additives.
All of our products and packaging carry the European standard EN 13432 certification, which is the standard that details requirements for biodegradability and compostability, and defines the technical specification for the compostability of bioplastics products. This applies to all components, inks and additives, and also includes tests on ecotoxicity and heavy metal content. There are two variants to this certification - industrially compostable and home compostable, which are indicated on products using the labels below.
All of our products and packaging are certified as industrially compostable (biodegradable). Many industrially compostable products will not biodegrade or disintegrate in the often low temperature found in a home composting bin.
Our equipment coverings and packaging are certified as home compostable. 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 household wastes.
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.
- 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
Test data also confirms that this material will biodegrade in nature in a relatively short space of time, even in a marine environment, unlike most other materials. Such properties of a material, cannot be used as an excuse to dump our waste into the environment, but there is a chance your waste could end up there, so the soil and marine biodegradation properties of our equipment coverings, are interesting and important to note.
There are numerous, widely-used, oil-based plastics on the market today, a large enough quantity that they could be recycled. However, only two of these plastics are actually being recovered and recycled at the post-consumer level - PET (polyethylene terephthalate): typically used for bottles of soda, water and juice, and HDPE (high density polyethylene): typically used for bottles of milk, laundry detergent, etc. Even though there are many consumer products made from these two plastics, it is only plastic bottles that are recycled in any significant quantities.
Another reason not to recycle is that the UK exports 66% of its plastic for recycling, with no idea if it actually gets recycled when it reaches it’s destination. 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.
There has been some debate about the impact bioplastics could have on the current recycling infrastructure and concern about contamination of the recycling stream. However, biopolymers can be effectively sorted from other recycling using NIR (near-infrared) technology, which can accurately identify the many different polymers already in use today. NIR technology is the industries preferred plastics sorting technology, and it can accurately identify the biopolymer used to make your ink caps in a mixed waste plastics stream. Of course, not all recycling facilities today have the latest technology, and some still rely on manual identification systems.
What makes the biopolymer that we have used to make your ink caps exciting though, 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.
Our equipment coverings and packaging are only organically recyclable (compostable).
Incineration is a common end-of-life scenario; where infrastructure requires it, or other waste management options are unavailable. In some countries, it is common for tattoo waste to be classified as hazardous or offensive, meaning you must have the appropriate waste management contracts in place, and this waste often has to be incinerated. However, you can find green waste management companies (such as Stericycle in the UK), where waste-to-energy (WTE) incineration facilities are often used. 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
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 biodegrade or break down in a conventional landfill, but neither does anything else! Landfill does not offer the necessary climate to compost, so it is unlikely that any product will decompose efficiently. That being said, if both biobased products and oil-based products end up in a landfill, the biobased products are already better because they aren’t derived from fossil-fuels, they’re sustainable, and the manufacturing process contributes less greenhouse gases and uses less energy, compared to oil-based products. Additionally, biobased products will not contribute any significant quantity of methane formation in a landfill.
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 biodegrade or break down in a conventional landfill, but neither does anything else!
In some countries, such as the UK, tattoo waste is classified as offensive (not including sharps which are classified as hazardous) and legislation states that you can dispose of offensive waste by incineration or non-hazardous landfill. In this situation, incineration would be better as the waste would go on to be used for other purposes, where as in landfill the waste would still be there tens, or even hundreds of years later, and may even have found it’s way out of the landfill and into the environment.
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. The biggest problem with moving to a more environmentally friendly way 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. Unfortunately, this means we probably can’t dispose of our waste exactly how we’d like, but health and safety regulations cannot be ignored, else we risk other damaging implications.
We probably can’t dispose of our waste exactly how we’d like, but health and safety regulations cannot be ignored.
So what are the best end-of-life options? This will differ depending on the facilities available in your area, and your local health and safety laws. If you reside in a place where regulations mean tattoo waste is classified as hazardous and must be incinerated, then the only option you have is to choose a green waste management company that use a waste-to-energy facility. If there are no regulations when it comes to disposal of your tattoo waste, then you must still manage it responsibly. If the materials are industrially compostable, then in theory you can send them to be industrially composted, but they are still potentially infectious, even if not stated as ‘hazardous’ or ‘offensive’ in the law, and there are currently no regulations about sending this sort of waste to existing composting facilities. Another possible problem is that existing 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. Therefore, implementing the use of a green waste management company (even if the law doesn’t stipulate it as a requirement) to send your waste to a WTE facility may be the best option. If this is not a possibility, then landfill may be the only option, but as we have learnt, nothing will break down in landfill. This isn’t an ideal scenario, but it is important to remember, that even if our products end up in landfill, they are still always better in every way than their oil-based alternatives.
Due to the properties and performance of our products, 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.
There are some other waste management methods that could be potential solutions for plant-based and compostable tattoo waste. The HOTBIN, for example, is an aerobic compost bin that gets really hot, to temperatures of between 40-60°c. Products that are certified as industrially compostable, such as all of our supplies and packaging, will only compost in facilities at temperatures between 55 to 60°C, so should not usually go into a home compost. However, the temperature of the HOTBIN allows more types of waste to be composted than with traditional cold composting heaps, and in just 30-90 days too. It is capable of composting different types of PLA and so should be capable of composting your ink caps and bag/equipment coverings. We are currently conducting an experiment at our studio in London, using the HOTBIN for our plant-based tattoo supplies waste, and will publish our findings in the coming months. As an added feature, the HOTBIN is also 100% recyclable!
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 are made from plants not oil, keeping fossil-fuels in the ground, and they are produced from crops that are 100% annually renewable resources, making them sustainable. So even if our products end up in landfill, they are still better by every measure than their traditional fossil-fuel based plastics alternatives.
Even if our products end up in landfill, they are still better by every measure than their traditional fossil-fuel based plastics alternatives.
I am just a tattoo artist, not a scientist, and this is written from my own research. I hope you found it helpful!