HP, printer, ink, copier, recycling, how to, feature
Millions of old HP ink cartridges

We all rely on our printing for school and work and HP has some of the best home and office printers available. All printers, though, use ink and those ink cartridges periodically need to be replaced. Have you ever stopped to think about what happens to your printer’s ink cartridges when they’re empty? If you throw them in the trash, that’s clearly bad, but if you recycle them, then what? I was recently invited to Nashville, Tennessee to see for myself how HP is putting your home office waste to better use.

How are HP printer cartridges recycled?

All HP’s old ink and toner cartridges end up at a huge recycling facility in La Vergne, Tennessee, just outside Nashville.

 HP, printer, ink, copier, recycling, how to, feature
Hundreds of printers awaiting recycling

When HP printer owners—who take advantage of HP’s Instant Ink program—are done with their ink cartridges, HP includes a small envelope for you to mail them back in for recycling. All these tiny packages end up at this recycling facility. But then what?

 HP, printer, ink, copier, recycling, how to, feature
A worker hand disassembling an old HP printer

Machines and humans take old HP printers apart

Check out the video of how the recycling happens: first your old cartridges are poured into massive machines that sort them into different sizes and types. Some of these small plastic accessories need to be hand disassembled, but others are taken apart by a machine. This machine lines up the same cartridges so that another spinning machine with tiny robot fingers can pull out the metals, and separate the ink sponges and the plastics.

 HP, printer, ink, copier, recycling, how to, feature
All the tiny pieces in an ink cartridge, now separated into its parts

What’s left is batches of different materials waiting to be recycled. HP says about 40-50 million cartridges are recycled here every year.

Similarly the recycling facilities also handle old printers and copiers. They are painstakingly taken apart by hand, and ripped up into many parts. When it comes to the plastics, once separated from all the other materials, plastic is crushed up on a giant plastic shredder.

 HP, printer, ink, copier, recycling, how to, feature
The giant plastic shredder

Plastic scrap becomes new printers & cartridges

All this plastic scrap is eventually turned back into new plastics and yes, even back into new HP printers.

 HP, printer, ink, copier, recycling, how to, feature
Massive bags of plastic shred, ready to be remade into plastic.

“The world is facing a crisis right now,” says Ellen Jackowski, HP Sustainability Strategy & Innovation. “Climate change is real, ocean plastic is real, and these problems continue to grow. If companies like HP don’t step up and take immediate action starting today and continue to solve problems… we know this is our responsibility. We need to do it for ourselves, our customers and the planet.”

HP also announced a new printer that it says is the world’s first carbon neutral printer.

 HP, printer, ink, copier, recycling, how to, feature
The HP Tango Printer

HP Announces Tango Terra: 1st carbon neutral printer

The printer is called the HP Tango Terra—Terra means earth—and HP says this printer is meant to make sure the planet is taken care of. It’s a HP Tango printer, bundled with Eco-friendly paper and HP’s Instant Ink, which delivers ink to your door and ensures your cartridges are recycled. It also uses less plastic in the printer manufacturing and in the packaging. The Terra printer uses 30% recycled plastic and the company says it’s HP’s first carbon-neutral printer. While the Tango printer is available at Best Buy, the Tango Terra kit is not yet available in Canada, but HP hopes it will be soon.

What we saw in the recycling facilities is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a stadium’s worth of other printers, copiers, old grocery store checkout machines and piles and piles of foam packaging on the day we visit, all waiting to be transformed into new products.

With that in mind, next time you get a postage paid return envelope with your new ink cartridges don’t toss it. Pop your used printer and cartridges inside and send them off so they too can have a chance at a new life.

For more info on HP’s Tango Terra printer kit, or on recycling and sustainability, you can visit HP’s website. Or shop the Tango Printer at Best Buy.

Erin Lawrence
Editor TV and Home Theatre
Erin is a journalist, writer, and TV producer with a fascination for technology and a love of gadgets. Check out her blog TechGadgetsCanada.com