How to Recycle Ink Cartridges
By Chantal McCulligh
Recycling ink cartridges saves consumers money while conserving raw materials and lessening energy output.
Although a “paperless” approach has been integrated into the daily lives of consumers and businesses, there is still widespread use of printers, fax machines and, ultimately, ink cartridges.
Despite our best efforts, this has allowed landfills to continue to fill with ink cartridges that could have otherwise been recycled. It is estimated that approximately 11 cartridges are thrown out every second, which leads to hundreds of millions of disposed ink cartridges annually. This is certainly a statistic that needs to decline, as we continue to waste our resources instead of reusing them through proven recycling processes. Unfortunately, it is too easy to let this concept slip the mind and toss these items into a trash bin.
Recyclable components of ink cartridges
Since ink cartridges can be recycled up to six times while producing the same quality and output as brand new ones, they are often refurbished, refilled and resold to consumers. Purchasing recycled ink cartridges not only saves consumers money, but also conserves raw materials and drastically lessens energy output. In fact, it takes approximately 80% less energy to recycle ink cartridges into new ones than it does to create them from scratch.
Recycling ink cartridges is about much more than dropping them off at a recycling facility. It is also about reusing their recycled versions, which we’ll discuss below.
The benefits of recycling ink cartridges
As mentioned above, there are a variety of environmental and personal benefits that come from opting to recycle used ink cartridges. In addition to reducing waste, conserving raw materials, using less energy and saving money for consumers, recycling these items also reduces air and water pollution.
The benefits do not end there, though. Ink cartridge recycling so also reduces greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global climate change, and most importantly, it helps to provide a sustainable environment for future generations. Ink cartridges that are not recycled sit in landfills for hundreds or even thousands of years since plastic decomposes at an extremely slow rate. Although you may not live to see the damage that these items will certainly cause, the generations after you will. Making a change now will ensure a healthier future.
The ink cartridge recycling process
After ink cartridges have been collected for recycling, the disassembly begins, which starts with an inspection. Smaller cartridges are sent through a device to ensure that the product is, indeed, an ink cartridge. This technology works similarly to the machines that you see on produce lines and in other production factories.
Once confirmed to be ink cartridges, they are gathered together, boxed and sent down the line. Laser technology scans the cartridges to determine their model number, which allows the cartridges to be thoroughly sorted into bins of similar models. Any remaining ink is drained and the gold and palladium contained within are separated and melted down at a downstream facility. Dismemberment of the ink cartridges also happens to remove any pieces that must also be separated into other piles, such as the foam that covers the ink holes or metal pieces.
The next process tackles 40% of the ink cartridge. The plastic is shredded down and processed into resin and then mixed with similar plastics based on resin code, but not before being thoroughly washed.
Tests are then conducted to ensure that the resin strength has not been jeopardized, and each individual cartridge is rebuilt, topped with toner and finally further tested to gauge product quality. Inspection is a vital part of the ink cartridge recycling process, as it ensures that all components are working to their fullest potential. If any component is questionable, it is removed and put into material recovery piles and replacement components are integrated into the new ink cartridge.
To finish the process, the cartridges are labeled and sealed in new packages and resold. Those ink cartridges that cannot be recycled are sent to be recycled into other items.
Reusing ink cartridges
Beyond the environmental and economic benefits of recycled ink cartridges, the quality of the ink and the printing job is the exact same as a brand new ink cartridge. Now, if only we had the capabilities and motivation to thoroughly make our personal and work lives completely paperless.
Until then, opting to recycle ink cartridges instead of throwing them out in the trash will help the environment. It takes only a couple minutes to do. Many retailers offer drop-off boxes for your empty cartridges and others allow you to mail them in.
Learning how to recycle ink cartridges is as simple as actually doing it. It does not have to be a messy or tedious task. It will, however, be one that will considerably reduce your carbon footprint.