The Reality of Recycling: A Guide to the Afterlife of Ink Cartridges
For all the time we spend printing, not a lot of it is spent at the printer. You send the document from your computer and only stop to notice the flashing light reminding you of an empty ink cartridge as you retrieve your print. In this industrial age, sustainability has never been more important, and thinking about how to properly dispose of common office waste is the first step to changing your mindset. Returning your used HP ink cartridges and toners to the place you bought them is the first step – through company partnerships and recycling programs, it’ll get to a recycling facility and broken into disparate parts to be reused. Whereas if you throw it in the bin, it will only end up in landfill to create a mountain of problems.
In a recycling facility, hands-on sorting gets the toners, HP ink cartridges, and other printer parts divided up according to factors like brand, type, and combined materials. Some brands will take back empty cartridges and other parts for their own internal recycling programs, while the leftovers back at the recycling facility are further sorted according to the type of treatment they’ll receive before becoming safe to reuse.
In landfill, the chemicals in the carelessly discarded HP ink cartridges and toner bottles can leech into the ground and water, contaminating them. The effects of poorly disposed of waste can compound into cases of poisoning as well as render the environment unsafe for decades. Billions of dollars go into repairing the damage done to the environment from landfill.
Recycled toner bottles and printer cartridges are shredded in specially designed machinery before the magic happens. Magnets take iron-based metals away from the leftover parts before electric currents, called eddie currents, separate other metals, like aluminium, from the other compounds. Plastics, leftover inks, metals, and other materials, are thoroughly separated and sent away – hazards are safely disposed of, and safer materials go out to be remade into something better.
In landfill, it can take as much as a thousand years for some parts to decompose. That’s why it’s so important that systems are put in place to ensure the continued lifespan of these materials.
So how do all these parts actually get reused? The HP ink cartridges taken back by the brands are refilled and simply become new cartridges again. Leftover inks can go to pens and leftover toner can go into roads. Metals are always in demand – they can be used in anything from refrigerators to aluminium drink cans. Even the often hated plastics can be reformed into new products – mixed plastics are used in a wood replacement material, commonly used in park benches. In the end, recycling printer cartridges means no waste goes to landfill, and you get all these great new products, made at least in part from the empty HP ink cartridge you recycled. You didn’t even have to wait a millenium for it to decompose naturally.
So while a single recycled cartridge can make all the difference in the world, take your sustainable mindset to work with you. Don’t let those fax parts and empty toner bottles disappear into the bin – encourage recycling in the office. Remind your friends and relatives not to throw their used ink cartridges in the bin. You might get a nice recycled park bench outside for all your trouble.