Waste of science

By Anna Sandiford 13/05/2010 1


You’re printing an URGENT document and – @#$% – “toner empty“. Annoying (politely). So you hope you’ve got a new one, otherwise it’s a dash to the supplier, hoping they have one but if it’s 4.30pm then Murphy’s Law says that they haven’t. Eventually get a new cartridge, pop it in the printer, cast the old one aside, print your urgent document. Swear NEVER to be without a spare ever again (although you’re sure there was a spare one last time you looked). Move on.

What happens to all that grot in the old toner cartridge?  Because needing a new toner cartridge doesn’t mean that all the toner powder has been used up, just that the machine can’t get any more out of the cartridge. Well, what I like to think of as a brilliant man has discovered that it can be used as the core ingredient for fingerprint powder: Recycled waste toner powder to aid police investigations.  The different colours can help in recovery of prints from dark-coloured surfaces apparently.

Now I’m no fingerprint expert but I do know that the art of fingerprint enhancement has been honed and developed for decades now and they do use different shades of powder (such as amido black, aluminium powder, emerald, ruby, fluorescent variations, etc.).

I hope this recycling approach works and is adopted because, as any research scientist or forensic technician will tell you, there is an ENORMOUS amount of waste generated by the scientific community.  I, for one, feel guilty about the polymer pipettes that I use for less than a minute before chucking them in the bin, never mind the examination gloves I have to swap after handling each sample, the water churning off down the drain because I have to leave it running during parts of the processing procedure, the constant need for polymer evidence bags that need to be robust and therefore don’t biodegrade easily, the scene suits that have to be thrown away after being used…the list goes on and on and on.

Any method or approach to help us reduce that waste has got to be a plus in my book.  I would be interested to hear from any fingerprint technicians who get to use this powder that is being made from toner cartridges – is there any difference in quality, for example?

I’d also love to know if there is anyone out there who is working on ways to reduce waste in research science and if so, how I can reduce my waste.


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