“Waste Ink that was once thrown away can now be filtered and reused.” These are the opening words of the article from the American Newspaper Publishing Association (ANPA Research) related to newsprint organizations.

The EPA begins “Recycling ink has good potential as a way to reduce waste and promote long-term cost savings.” (EPA) Thus already several years ago, the government realized the economic and ecological benefit for studying and recommending such equipment.

Waste inks may no longer be usable due to the fibers and cross-contamination of colors. Historically, these challenges were not overcome because the cost to do so was prohibitive. For many years companies were able to dispose of the waste ink from their process down the drain or dump as a part of normal municipal waste sources. This means that it ends up in the water streams or in a landfill which ultimately contaminates both land and groundwater. “Most lithographic wastes 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).” (University of Wisconsin)

Over the years the cost of disposal even for landfill was becoming a burden such that the waste ink process required some solution. A solution that was economical and ecological would be optimal. Based on the case at hand, Milwaukee Journal and Sentinel were one of the first companies to approach the topic of ink recovery. This first system was jointly developed by the newspaper Wisconsin Bridge and Iron Company and Semler Industries, Inc.

Case Evaluation – Milwaukee Journal and Sentinel (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

The first system that they approached was built as a prototype and lessons were going to be learned from this process. “We put a lot of time, money and effort into the system; we put in a good two years before we got it to work so we could really use it.” (ANPA) The components cost approximately 30,000 (2010 USD) when the prototype was built, not including labor efforts. Still, once started, the equipment used 18 filters to remove fibers, debris and such. The equipment is expected to last for 20 years with routine maintenance and the filters are changed every 140 to 150 gallons, thus the filters are important aspect to maintain in the process. Filters, today, run about 4USD each and the subsequent filter bags will cost about 7.30USD each.

Milwaukee Journal and Sentinel figured that at the time they were generating approximately 204,000 liters (54,000gallons) of waste ink each year. The costs for disposal including filters, bags and labor would be approximately 30,660USD, but the overall annual savings from the unit was 117,000USD per year. This indicates a roughly three month payback on the original ink reclaiming unit! Of course, not every customer will experience such a dramatic payback, but most will find a payback of less than one year, almost all will experience less than 18-month payback.

Based on further studies, work was done to process watered inks as well. Considering the challenges of water in addition to filtration was another element that newspapers were please to find out had been resolved.

Case Evaluation – Sun Times (Chicago, Illinois)

The first full installation of an automated unit from Semler Industries took place at the Chicago Sun Times. Similar to many other printers, the waste ink was stored in drums until it was time to remove. Instead, these drums are now sent to the dump tank of the ink reclaimer. Before installation of the equipment, the Sun Times would dispose of more than 50000 liters of waste ink each year. After the installation of the equipment: none. The production director that oversaw the installation, Leo F. Vogler, stated “very well thought-out. We are absolutely satisfied with it.” In fact, during the operation of this equipment, they found that the filters in the first housing were changed at every service period, but the second housing was only changed once every three or four services. This was because the first filter removed so much debris that the second set of filters were only performing a “polishing” clean.


Case Evaluation – Seattle Times (Washington state)

“It’s saved us a lot of money” said Jim Carr, Supervisor at Seattle Times (Watson). In the first five years of use the unit had processed 110,000 gallons (416,000 liters) of ink. “We figured it paid for itself after the first 29,000 gallons (110,000 liters). The machine requires very little maintenance, and has only needed one repair, which cost $40.” (Watson)

Case Evaluation – St. Petersburg Times (Florida)

“A Huber-designed system installed… four years ago has recycling about 150,000 gallons (567,000 liters) of ink” (Watson)

Case Evaluation – Los Angeles Times

The Orange County plant of the LA Times had a system that was processing 500 gallons (1890 liters) of ink per week. That’s nearly 100,000 gallons annually at one site! Imagine the cost savings they incurred for just one plant and multiply it for all of the sites they own.

Equipment Description and Operator Procedures

The equipment is provided as a skid, or full-frame device which is self-standing and is not attached to the press. This is an absolute requirement to avoid interrupting the process at any print location.

First there is a dump tank which allows the waste ink to await processing. Drip pans below the unit collect and contain any spillage that might occur during transfer. A positive displacement pump is able to screen the ink twice, coarse and fine, to remove large debris such as paper, rags, or similar materials. Then, the waste ink passes through two cartridge housings with multiple cartridges (18) in each. The two housings have progressive filtration which are specifically designated for the process.

The resultant ink is at a level as good or better than many suppliers of fresh ink to the printing industry.

The system will automatically stop operating when the filters have reached their maximum capacity and the operator can initiate a dump cycle on either or both set of housings, which drains the filter housings back to the main dump tank. The operator can remove the used filters and install clean, new filters in both housings. Once replaced, the operator starts the system again. It’s really quite simple and requires minimal training.

Over the years, Semler Industries focused on developing a line of products for various sizes of printing presses so that the number of filters, dump tank capacity and such would meet almost any need in the market. This included the controls, counters and improved pumps on the market.

Today, Semler Industries continues to make improvements, again, on the basic ink reclamation product line including a digital control panel, branded painting and covers to reduce caking on the inner piping and controls of the ink reclaiming equipment.

While the basic design or appearance of the equipment has not changed much since the early 1980s, after initial development was completed, the technology is automated and fresh.


Ultimately, it is about $0.10 per liter in filter costs to process the waste ink with 99% recovery. No matter what you pay for ink, this is still a bargain. Based on this assessment and including costs of the current, properly sized ink reclaiming unit, most companies will see an ROI in 12 months or less. Even for those with a moderate ROI of 18 months, the environmental benefits, space savings for waste drums and simplification of the process allows most customers to see a benefit. Therefore, it is recommended for any printing application to have a method of ink reclamation onsite.



  1. ANPA (1979). RI Bulletin, Ink Reclamation – a valuable new process for newspapers, Number 1317. ANPA Research Institute: Easton, PA
  2. Dana, Laurie (2002). Start Magazine: Going with the Flow. April 2002.
  3. Nelson, J. (2005). IMA Profile, Semler Industries celebrates 100 years.
  4. University of Wisconsin, (1998). How to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle Lithographic Ink Wastes. Waste Education Series: University of Wisconsin-Extension.
  5. Watson, T. (1988). Recycling of waste printing ink catches on at newspapers, Resource Recycling, March/April, 1988.

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