HP Wants That Inkjet Cartridge Back

Send it back to HP.

Heweltt Packard announced on Wednesday that it's making strides in its efforts to be more environmentally friendly through the development of an engineering process that allows the company to use post-consumer recycled plastics when manufacturing new HP inkjet printer cartridges.

"As a company HP continues to look at ways to reduce our environmental foot print and this is another way on the front end that we're doing to drive the environmental factors that we're all facing today, whether we're a consumer or a large corporation like HP," said Ken Fleming, Director, North American Supplies Marketing.

HP's process combines recycled material from inkjet printer cartridges returned to the company through its HP Planet Partners program and other plastics from things like water bottles and re-engineers them to create new ink jet cartridges. Both end-users and resellers can return cartridges to HP in pre-stamped envelopes that the company provides both in cartridge packaging and free on its Web site, said Scott Canonico, Manager, Environmental Policy and Strategy, for Palo Alto-based HP.

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"The cartridges come back and enter into a multi-phase recycling process. Cartridges are dismantled, shredded and then we separate materials and then they go through a process of refinement. This is actually one of the key breakthroughs," he said. "By adding a suite of additives, also adding some volume from recycled bottle type plastic, we were able to get a material that is consistent and performs on specification on par with virgin plastic material."

The company does not refill returned cartridges, he said, because it is unable to assure performance. "It just doesn't deliver the quality and reliability that HP customers expect," Canonico said.

So far HP has used more than 9 million pounds of recycled plastics in its ink jet cartridges, which could fill more than 200 tractor trailers. More than 5 million of that was in 2007. HP hopes to recycle 10 million pounds worth this year, Fleming said.

HP has made more than 200 million cartridges with recycled materials, and each cartridge manufactured contains 70 to 100 percent recycled plastics, the company said.

The company is still working on creating ways to recycle and re-engineer plastics in its laser jet cartridges. "We do not have outside sources other than recycle plastics recovered from our own laser jet cartridges. That is a processing, refining and newly molding process," Canonico said. "It's really a goal across all of HP, to identify more environmentally better materials and improve our overall footprint and performance across all products."

For reseller Jim Fall, vice president, strategic planning for Cannon IV, Indianapolis, Ind., recycling programs matter.

"We offer a recycling program in support of what HP's doing. More and more of our customers are asking about a green program for the electronics, whether it's for the cardboard box the toner comes in or the empty toner cartridge itself," Fall said.

"That's becoming of more importance as the demand grows for the products. Now there are more of them out there producing more empty toner cartridges. We're especially seeing that in the public sector -- schools, universities and government agencies seem to be driving those programs more aggressively," he said.

HP currently manufacturers a scanner with recycled plastic parts, but does not use them in their printers, he said.

However, resellers may already be selling more environmentally friendly inkjet cartridges than they realized. "The recycled plastics go into some of the highest volume cartridges worldwide. My expectation is that all of our resellers are probably selling recycled cartridges," Canonico said.