Editor’s note: Greener Shopping recognizes companies that provide genuine improvements in product and service environmental impacts. Reader Bradford S. recently asked for a recommendation for a source of printer ink and toner cartridges that provides a full lifecycle approach to buying and recycling ink. It’s a problem we seek to solve at Earth911, too. We found one company with a viable solution. It qualifies as a Greener Shopping Difference Maker, our service that helps you reduce your company’s greenhouse gas, water, and fossil fuel impact by as much as 50%.
The benefit of using a recycled inkjet or toner cartridge can be significant but there are few easy-to-use circular ink buying services for business. In most cases, the cartridges are sent to one company for recycling and transferred to other companies for resale back to the business. We found one company that sells, receives, recycles, and then resells the cartridges back to the business customer. Here’s the lowdown you need.
Inkjet and toner cartridges can be recycled (see our guide), but only about 20% of them are processed annually. If you’re looking for a way to make your business more responsible and accountable to your environmental goals, the challenge is to find a reliable cartridge recycler that does not send the products overseas for refurbishing and that also documents that all the unusable components are responsibly recycled instead of sent to a landfill. These programs do not provide certifications necessary to support environmental performance audits; however, it is possible to use invoices to show that your business buys printer supplies that are remanufactured responsibly.
Remanufactured inkjet and toner cartridges generally carry a one-third-lower environmental impact than new ones. Remanufactured HP inkjet cartridges produce only 1.79 lbs. (0.81 kg.) of CO2 equivalent emissions compared to 2.66 lbs. (1.21 kg.) for a newly made cartridge, according to the Centre for Remanufacturing and Reuse, a European research firm. A 2016 study by the Asian Institute of Technology found that a new toner cartridge creates approximately 83 lbs. (37.68 kg.) of CO2-equivalent emissions compared to a remanufactured cartridge, which emits about 54.4 lbs. (24.70 kg.) of greenhouse gases. There are also significant reductions in water and fossil fuel consumption — 75% less water and 54% less oil used — associated with remanufactured cartridges.
Business customers will not find a single solution for recycling used and buying recycled cartridges from the major printer companies. You will need to send cartridges to one company for recycling and buy them from another. Hewlett-Packard and Canon have launched ambitious circular ink projects that provide free recycling shipping. However, only Canon’s refurbished cartridges are available in the U.S. — and only through third-party resellers. They lack the convenience of buying and recycling with one company.
Local remanufacturing is essential to making recycling programs sustainable. HP’s circular recycling program, which operates only in Europe, recycles cartridges in France and resells them through other companies in Europe.
Printer cartridge technology needs more innovation, as well. The typical cartridge or component can be recycled 1.1 times, the Centre for Remanufacturing and Reuse reported. Redesigning and reducing the complexity of printer technology will make them more recyclable and reduce the overall impact of printing.
Doorstep Ink’s Circular Solution
We’ve found only one company that offers full lifecycle support for printer cartridges, Doorstep Ink by Planet Green. The company sells, collects used cartridges with free shipping, and offers discounts to business customers based on the value of cartridges returned. For example, customers can send four used cartridges to get 20% off a future order, which makes this program viable for businesses that want to use circularly produced ink. Planet Green also processes remanufactured cartridges in the U.S. at a plant in Chatsworth, California. The products are not sent to other continents where they may be recycled — or dumped in a landfill.
While the CO2-equivalent emissions of a recycled inkjet or toner cartridge are about 33% less than brand new items, the reduced water use and reliance on new plastic made from fossil fuels — plus Doorstep Ink’s domestic recycling infrastructure that reduces shipping emissions — can lower environmental impacts of corporate ink purchases by as much as 50%. In order to achieve a 50% reduction in your printer ink impact, we recommend combining empty cartridges into as few shipments as possible.
The most effective steps you can take are reducing business printing in general, choosing to put information on paper only when it is essential, and use only recycled paper when printing is necessary. Making your ink last longer is one benefit, the other is reducing waste. Recycled paper, which is controversial, does lead to a savings of 7,000 gallons of water and approximately 4.23 tons of CO2 emissions per ton.