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The Importance of Ink Cartridge Recycling

The Importance of Ink Cartridge Recycling

Linsey Knerl
Reading time: 10 minutes
Have you ever thought about the types of trash that make up landfills? It can be discouraging to see recyclables end up there, especially obvious ones like paper cups, plastic bags, and aluminum cans.
Are you aware of some of the other kinds of recyclables that many of us use every day? Printer ink cartridges are one type that seems to get overlooked, but recycling them can have a big, positive impact on our environment. Here’s how and why ink recycling should be a priority for you in the new year.

What printing does to our planet

Ink products are a necessary part of home, business, and school life. We couldn’t create beautiful projects, share photos of friends, or do simple household tasks without a home or office printer. The concern for those who are environmentally minded lies in what happens when you run out of ink. Those empty toner and inkjet cartridges become plastic junk pieces that seem easy enough to toss in the trash. What would be the harm in doing so?
While we don’t know the exact number of cartridges that have ended up in landfills or in our oceans, we do know that the impact of doing nothing could be devastating. HP® has diverted more than 199 million pounds of plastic away from landfills. That’s almost 5,000 tractor-trailer loads that would have caused harm to our environment and its creatures.
HP’s Planet Partners program has been working for more than 25 years to keep many types of ink and electronic products from cluttering up our world. If laid end to end, the recycled cartridges from HP LaserJet printers in the program alone would circle the planet.
This is just one type of product and the impact we have made. Imagine what it could be like if every printer and related product, from every brand, was recycled.

The positive impact of HP ink cartridge recycling

One recent development in the way people buy, consume, and dispose of consumer goods is changing the outlook for our natural environment. “Closed loop” recycling is a term that describes efforts to follow materials as they go from the point of purchase all the way through to when they get put into a new product as a recycled ingredient.
HP® has mastered the closed loop recycling method through their ink cartridge products by making it easy, affordable, and beneficial to buy new ink products and when used up, return them as raw materials for new Original HP ink cartridges and laser toner cartridges.
Did you know that in 2012 HP® used more than 18.8 million pounds of recycled plastic from used ink products to create printer cartridges? Up to 70% of new ink products can be made from recycled materials, meaning it’s more responsible than ever to buy your new ink cartridges directly from HP®.
The impact of recycling goes further than your home office needs, though, because HP® also recycles plastic from hangers and bottles to help make up the recycled content that they put inside their products.
These new cartridges meet the high standards for all new ink products, ensuring compatibility with HP printers, including those that work with the HP Instant Ink program. Not a single ink cartridge returned by consumers through the HP program ever ends up in a landfill.

Recycling helps people too

There’s another global benefit to recycling, and it has less to do with our environment and more to do with our communities. When well-intentioned relief efforts left millions of plastic water bottles on the streets and beaches of earthquake-torn Haiti, HP® stepped in to help. We began working with nonprofits and businesses to create a system that hires and trains Haitians to gather and sort the plastic trash that overwhelmed their towns.
This salvaged plastic was cleared away and later made up some of the recycled plastic found in new HP ink cartridges. This program has been making a real difference in the trash levels in Haiti and proves that ink cartridge recycling isn’t just a way to get rid of trash. It can help families earn a living to support their loved ones, too.

When buying recycled, the brand matters

It’s important to understand that not all forms of recycling are equal. To make the best decision about which companies to purchase from, you need to know what they do to the cartridges in the process, because not all methods are true recycling.
An original HP cartridge is also referred to as an OEM, or original equipment manufacturer, product. When you buy OEM, you are guaranteed that it is a new product, backed by HP’s standards of performance and compatible with specific HP printers. When you are finished using that OEM cartridge, you can return it to HP® through its retail and mail partners, and the plastic will be used as part of a new OEM product. The cycle continues, with each of your used, guaranteed cartridges becoming part of each new ink product sold by HP®.
When you buy an unofficial cartridge that is marketed as “HP compatible” or sold by another company that claims to recycle cartridges outside of the HP Planet Partners program, you sacrifice the backing of a true OEM product.
These companies may make promises to refill ink cartridges for multiple uses or even re-manufacture cartridges. Re-manufacturing is the process of refilling, reprogramming, or otherwise attempting to make a used cartridge case work like new again.
The problem with these alternatives can’t be ignored. Refilled cartridges often don’t meet the high standards of new cartridges, so they can potentially cause harm to your printer. Misprints due to leaky or misaligned cartridges result in the need for reprints, which wastes both ink and paper. These off-brand cartridges may also void your printer manufacturer warranty, making repairs or a replacement more expensive than they should be. And these third-party products also aren’t designed to work with HP®’s own programs, such as HP Instant Ink.
What may even be worse is that companies who re-manufacture ink products aren’t very proactive about encouraging recycling. Almost 94% of remanufactured ink products end up being thrown away - not recycled - because many of these companies don’t provide an easy way to collect used cartridges.
By staying with the official HP® closed-loop cycle, you aren’t just getting a quality product; you are part of a program that has been designed to serve customers and the planet with sustainable choices starting with at point of purchase.

Where to recycle ink cartridges

With so many different ways to recycle and return ink cartridges, there’s no excuse to put it off. HP®, in particular, gives customers three very easy methods to return your ink empties. Even if you use very little ink or save them up to return less often, there’s a system that works for your busy schedule.

1. Recycle in-store

Many places accept your used ink cartridges for recycling. Several of the major “big box” retailers have ink disposal containers near where they sell their ink. Office supply stores also have recycling boxes or stations that accept almost every type of inkjet and toner cartridge. HP Ink has partnered with a few of these stores as part of their official recycling program and there are incentives for consumers who take part.
Drop off your used cartridges at:
  • Walmart, where it’s convenient to recycle where you shop
  • Best Buy, and earn My Best Buy Rewards points
  • Office Depot and OfficeMax, and earn Worklife® Rewards
  • Staples, and earn Staples rewards
It’s easy to recycle in person, and in many cases you’ll be rewarded for it. Not all locations accept all types of cartridges, though, so contact your local store for details.

2. Recycle by mail

For those who don’t shop much in-store, a much easier way to recycle printer ink cartridges is to pop them in the mail. HP® makes it super simple to do this. Just visit their mail-in recycling page and indicate the number and type of ink product you are returning, as both toner and inkjet products are allowed. Depending on the number of empties you are returning, you’ll be prompted to order a pre-paid envelope, print a label, or order a pallet pickup.
The small envelopes for ink cartridge recycling can be filled, sealed, and put in your mailbox for pick up. Follow the instructions for larger boxes for pick up by FedEx, UPS, or USPS. This method is especially useful for consumers who live in rural areas, who don’t shop in-store often, or who are homebound.

3. Use the HP Instant Ink program

Finally, there is a very simple way to buy and recycle ink in one easy step through the HP Instant Ink program. Available for use with a wide range of newer HP Instant Ink-enabled printers, this program lets you pay for ink by pages printed, whether you prefer black-and-white pages or color.
HP Instant Ink Welcome Kit
The HP Instant Ink service is a monthly subscription that you can use to print up to a certain number of pages for a set price. Unused pages roll over to the next month, and if you go over your allotment, you can buy additional pages for a flat fee.
Your HP Instant Ink-connected printer will notify the service that you’re running out of ink in plenty of time for HP® to ship you a new cartridge, so you never have to place an order or set foot in the store.
Each new box of printer ink cartridges also comes with a prepaid, addressed envelope for sending back your empties. With printer cartridge recycling as part of the process, this is the easiest and most responsible way to shop for your ink through HP®.

How to recycle ink cartridges

Unlike other types of recycling, such as paper or plastic, there is no sorting involved when you recycle HP ink cartridges. If a store or location takes your ink product empties, you can just drop it off.
Mail-ins only need you to make sure the package is properly addressed and postage prepaid. There is no special cleaning or breaking down of the products that needs to take place because HP® handles everything.

Are all ink cartridges recyclable?

Unfortunately, it is impossible for printer ink manufacturers to recycle every type of ink product they have ever sold. Non-returnable HP supplies include certain discontinued products, cartridges that have been refilled or remanufactured, and products on this list. Also, the HP ink recycling program doesn’t currently handle other brand’s products.
Note: Even though HP® may not accept an ink product as part of their HP Planet Partners recycling program, it may still be recyclable. Check with your local recycling and waste disposal center for information on other available options.

What will you do?

According to Plastic Oceans [1], 300 million tons of plastic is produced every year, and half of those products were never meant to be used more than once. This has resulted in a staggering 8 million tons of plastic waste making its way into our waterways annually. This number doesn’t include landfill plastics or those that haven’t been disposed of yet.
With printer ink designed to be a single-use product, it’s obvious to see how the simple act of recycling it could ease some of that waste burden on our planet.
While ink cartridges are small and not something we look at daily, the potential for change here is great. The next time you’re not sure what to do with an old ink cartridge, consider the impact you can make on our world.
It’s as simple as dropping off your empties the next time you shop, or even just popping a prepaid envelope in the mail. With companies like HP® making it so simple and rewarding, we’ve run out of reasons to ever put our ink products in the trash. What part will you play in the reversal of the plastic waste trend?
[2] Plastic Oceans; The Facts

About the Author

Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP® Tech Takes. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.

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