Recyclable design is an essential approach to promoting resource conservation and product recycling. To introduce recyclable design, an organization that is now known as theCommittee for Environment-Compatible Designwas established in 1993. The workshop formulated the company’s first recyclable design policy based on the Comet Circle, and has built up know-how in various areas, such as the grading of plastic molding parts, strength design considering future reuse as well as the reduction of packaging materials, the reuse of high value-added parts, recycling of high-quality materials, and improvement in the ease of disassembling and sorting. After designing copiers and printers, designers carry out recyclable design self-assessments to make necessary improvements, and in this way, the consideration of designers to recycling has already become a part of their core design process. Inaddition, we hold a recyclable design seminar to discuss how to deal with revised rules and new laws and regulations, targeting designers of not only Ricoh’s design division but also of its Group companies.
Effects of recyclable design
As part of its measures to manufacture recyclable design products, Ricoh developed compatible labels which do not compromise the quality and purity of recycled plastics even when parts are dissolved and reused with the labels still on. We have been using these labels aslabels for products such as multifunction copiers and printers, as well as fax machines, since 1994. In order to promote the use of compatible labels for other home appliances, Ricoh signed a contract with the Association for Electronic Home Appliances in October 2009 to allow the association and its member firms free access to the relevant patents Ricoh owns. By having these compatible labels used in many home appliances, and by displaying the materials used in the labels, home appliance recycling plants can now eliminate the conventional process of removing product labels manually or punching them out by machine. This boosts the efficiency of the recycling process, and enables the recycling of high-quality materials. Ricoh expects that highly efficient plastic recycling using these the compatible labels will take root in Japan, and will contribute to the building of a recirculating society.
The deployment of compatible labels has enabled us to eliminate the roughly 14 minute process of removing labels when recycling copiers (in the case of widely used models) and the need to separately dispose of the labels, thereby boosting work efficiency at the recycling stage and reducing processing costs. Due to these efforts, we first introduced products equipped with parts composed of more than 20% recycled plastic content in 1999. Building upon this achievement, we have since continued increasing the use of recycled plastics.
Ricoh copiers are offered mainly for lease in Japan, and every leased copier is placed under our management. This system facilitates the collection of used machines, and allows us to effectively utilize resources. The know-how accumulated through this practice is also made available in countries where the business model differs from that of Japan tohelp develop their recycling system. However, the collection of used machines requires energy- and cost-consuming transportation, and therefore, if collected products are not effectively utilized, collection will only create substantial losses. Ricoh has adopted resource conservation and recycling as one of the pillars of its environmental conservation activities since the early 1990s, and has been working on the recycling of collected copiers, laser printers, toner cartridges, and supplies. More than 200,000 units of our used products are collected each year, and fully recycled* or reused. Furthermore, in order to continuously promote recycling, it is also necessary to create economic value from recycling. Ricoh therefore has been engaged in recyclingcopiers in Japan by collecting used machines and relaunching them back into the market. Since the release of its first recycled copier in 1997, Ricoh has expanded its lineup more actively than any other company to offer a wide variety of recycled machines with a copying productivity ranging—as of fiscal 2012—from 25 to 75 pages per minute. In 2009, Ricoh also released its first recycled full-color copier, the imagio MP C3500RC/C2500RC series. With this new series launched in the market, Ricoh’s recycled copiers are now capable of meeting a variety of customer needs with a wide selection of monochrome and color models.
In addition to product information from the procurement of materials to sales, the Ricoh Group also controls information on each office equipment unit after sales using the recycling information system. Ricoh’s recycling information system is an original traceability system designed specifically for collection and recycling purposes, whereby each unit collected is bar-coded to trace its status throughout the process. The conditions of copiers used by customers are also recorded in the monitoring database within the system. The system allows efficient production and quality improvement of recycled products due to its ability to manage on an individual unit basis, enabling identification of which collected items are currently going through which process. Used copiers are first collected by Ricoh’s local sales subsidiaries/dealers or our Green Centers located in 11 cities across Japan, and sorted by model and quality level at Aggregation Centers to determine whether each collected machine will be recycled ordismantled for parts reuse or material recycling. Only products that have passed rigorous inspections are finally sent to recovery centers. At recovery centers, used products are examined again to note their condition (quality, deterioration, etc.), and then disassembled, cleaned, and washed. Data stored in the hard disc is also erased. In the assembling process, deteriorated parts and supplies are replaced with new ones. Assembled products then go through paper feeding tests, fine-tuning, and a finishing process before being shipped to ensure they meet the same standards as those for regular products. The finished recycled products are provided with the same quality warranty as that for new products.
Recycling process for copiers
The Office Machine Production (OM) Division, a production department for Ricoh’s Imaging Solution business, succeeded in reusing highly functional components of PM units in fiscal 2010, as a result of making joint efforts with the product design and technology departments.
A preventive maintenance (PM) unit is a unit to be regularly replaced with a new one unconditionally—regardless of whether it has a problem or not. This unit had been recycled since 2007 but its functional components were excluded from the target of reuse because of their long operating hours and direct impact on imaging quality.
In order to make more effective use of resources and reduce waste, however, Ricoh also began recycling the functional components that met the following criteria by establishing the necessary methods and assessment technology for each of the components: (1) the functionality of recycled components must be assured; (2) the remaining life must be assessed; and (3) the recycling must provide a cost benefit.
For heating rollers (one of the functional components of a PM unit), our supplier manufactured them in China, making it difficult to recycle the used rollers in Japan. Upon a request from Ricoh, however, the supplier provided the company with detailed information, including a method to evaluate the electrical resistance of the products. The supplier also helped Ricoh procure the necessary tools and components for the testing and recycling of the used heating rollers within Ricoh’s own premises. Also, the OM Division and the product design and technology departments jointly evaluated the relationship between the remaining life of the heating rollers and the degradation of their functionality, and established a highly accurate remaining life assessment technology. As a result, heating rollers can now be recycled in large amounts, which will help reduce CO2 emissions by 5.3 tons and waste by 4.9 tons annually, while at the same time reducing costs by 18 million yen.
The Ricoh Group is very grateful for the understanding and cooperation from the supplier. We will continue to conduct activities to increase the number of highly functional components that can be recycled and reused in close cooperation with our business partners and suppliers.
Flow to assure the quality of recycled components
The Ricoh Group is maximizing use of renewable resources by developing new kinds of recycled materials suitable for imaging equipment.
Most imaging equipment primarily uses steel sheets made in blast furnaces (i.e., sheets made from iron ore), due to the need for thinness, conductivity and ease of processing. Steel sheets produced in electric furnaces(i.e., sheets made principally from steel scrap) are used mainly as construction material.The Ricoh Group, in cooperation with Tokyo Steel Co., Ltd., developed an industry first: electric furnace-made steel sheets that have properties similar to those of blast-furnace steel sheets. These new sheets — comprised of 100% recycled steel scrap — are suitable for imaging machines.
We first used electric-furnace steel sheets to make parts for the imagio MP 9002/7502/6002/6002GP series released in July 2012. In 2013, parts made from electricfurnace steel sheets are also being used in other Ricoh machines sold throughout the world — RICOH MP C8002 SP/C6502 SP, RICOH Pro6100 series, and RICOH Pro C5110S/C5100S.
We are continuing efforts to increase the use of recycled steel in our machines so as to reduce the need for new resources and cut the cost of procurement. To that end, the Ricoh Group has established a “closed loop materials recycling” system for iron*1. This allows us to sell iron recovered from used Ricoh products to steel manufacturers and secure a stable supply of steel sheets.
Should the price of our scrap iron fall due to economic factors (such as a recession in emerging nations), this recycling program will become a heavier impact. We are preparing for this possibility by creating more uses for electric-furnace steel sheets. This will allow us to take advantage of scrap iron surpluses and make the program less vulnerable to price fluctuations.
Due to the gap between the total volume produced annually by the steel industry millions of tons) and the amount Ricoh consumes annually, not all the scrap iron we recycle will find its way back into metal sheets used in our products. We believe we have turned this situation into a virtual closed loop through cooperation with a steel manufacturer. By managing processes from the collection of scrap iron to the production of metal sheets in electric furnaces, we can compensate for the difference between the amount of scrap iron we supply and the amount of metal sheets we purchase.
Material recycling is an activity for reusing materials on the outside loop of the Comet Circle’s products and parts reuse. Since the 1990s the Ricoh Group has promoted high-quality and continuous material recycling through its recyclable designs.
Currently, with concrete countermeasures developed to achieve a 25% reduction in the amount of new resources used by the year 2020 (compared to the year 2007), we are working on the systematic expansion of material recycling. Since the weight ratio of the materials used in our equipment is largely accounted for by steel, by expanding and widening the use of multifunction printer components made from the electric furnace steel sheets we newly developed in 2012, we will curb the amount of new resources used.
With regard to resins, another of our main materials, we are using our original way of thinking and knowhow to aim for expanded recycling of the materials. Ricoh displays the varying grades of the resins used in each component at the time of manufacturing, so that once a product has been reclaimed we can maintain the quality of recycled materials by reusing them according to each grade. This has enabled us to achieve ‘horizontal’ (closed-loop) recycling in which we can reuse reclaimed external and internal materials to make items with the requisite high-quality features (incombustibility, endurance and toughness). In the future we will source not only from our own products but also try to improve the quality of reclaimed materials that appear on the market, and expand their use.
Furthermore, we will also attempt to improve the blending ratio (the proportion accounted for by recycled resources) in products while maintaining the preconditions of 1) securing the quality features of each component and 2) securing reuse quality that does not deteriorate with repeated use.
At the Ricoh Group, in response to the risks of the depletion of mineral resources and issues such as environmental damage caused by mining for resources, we will go one step ahead of strengthened international environmental regulations, continue to eagerly promote the use of recycled resources, and take the initiative in recycling that has a low impact on the environment and is economically efficient.
Toward achieving the target of reduction of new input resources by 25% by the year 2020 (compared to 2007 levels), the Ricoh Group is working on thorough and effective use of natural resources. As part of this activity, the Group is focusing on the development of product materials using renewable resources. The monochromatic production printers RICOH Pro 8120S/8110S/8100S, which were released in August, 2013 are partially made of highly fire-retardant biomass plastic and electric furnace steel plates made of 100% scrap materials.
This highly fire-retardant biomass plastic*1 is an improved version of the plant-derived plastic that the Ricoh Group has continued to develop since 2002 jointly with a raw material manufacturer. For the first time in our products, the new biomass plastic is being used for the back cover of the operation panel. In comparison with conventional petroleum-derived plastic, the application of this biomass plastic can be expected to contribute to a 40% or more reduction of CO2 emissions*2. Electric furnace steel plates were jointly developed by the Ricoh Group and a steel plate manufacturer. Application of the plates as parts in multifunction machines was enabled in 2012 for the first time in the industry. Electric furnace steel plates are now being used in parts, such as exterior-cover reinforcing stays, in our products.
In the future, the Ricoh Group would like to actively promote the development and practical realization of product materials in view of skilled manufacturing in a low-carbon, recyclable society, thus providing customers with environmentally friendly products.
Biomass degree: 40% or more, Fire-retardancy level: 5 VB (UL94 Standard)
Compared with conventional PC + ABS plastic parts estimated by Ricoh
Highly fire-retardant biomass plastic is being used for the back cover of the operation panel in RICOH Pro 8120S/8110S/8100S.