HP Canada introduces inkjet recycling program

In a bid to prevent dangerous materials being added to landfill, Hewlett-Packard Canada Co. added an inkjet recycling program to its assortment of environmental services earlier this month.

The Planet Partners Program is the name given to the company’s three take-back initiatives. Included in this program are a hardware-recycling program, a laser jet recycling program, and the newest addition, the inkjet-recycling program.

HP says the initiatives are focused on the environmental planning of the company’s IT-related products, from production to disposal.

“We want to be able to reduce what we call our environmental footprint, which is how much energy and resources we consume in making the products and then taking them back at the end of their life cycle, but also to ensure that our customers can do that too,” said Frances Edmonds, recycling manager at HP.

By 2006, Edmonds said it is HP’s goal to manufacture without the use of lead, mercury and cadmium, “the three heavy metals that give most people concern.”

Michael Vanderpol, program co-ordinator for the National Office of Pollution Prevention in Gatineau, Que., said these three heavy metals are part of the 34,000 metric tonnes of waste that IT related equipment and peripherals send to landfills annually. This translates into one per cent of the total municipal solid waste stream in Canada.

“We’re looking at 1,300 metric tonnes of lead…two tonnes of cadmium, and half a tonne of mercury…those quantities are expected to double by the year 2005,” Vanderpol said.

Carl Chenier, senior program engineer with the environmentally sound management group of Environment Canada in Gatineau, said that although there are federal regulations to deal with the management of hazardous waste, “there are no regulations for companies to implement take-back programs. That’s strictly voluntary.”

HP’s Planet Partners Program started in Canada in 1991 with the introduction of the laser jet recycling program. This program “is strictly for HP laser jet cartridges, and there is no cost to the end-user customer for this service,” said Anthony Faga, HP product manager for ink and supplies.

The hardware take-back program is a paid-for service that was launched in Canada last July, and includes the disposal of computers and equipment from any manufacturer.

“It is a paid-for service because it is very expensive to recycle hardware…we don’t make any profit on this service,” Edmonds said.

Pricing for this service ranges from $20 to $52 and is based on the quantity and type of products returned.

The inkjet recycling program follows in the footsteps of the laser jet service, and comes at no cost to customers. According to the company, the process of recycling an inkjet cartridge is unique to every brand of cartridge and, because HP’s recycling plant is only set up to handle HP products, the service is only offered to HP customers.

“Upon HP Canada receiving the actual used cartridges, they basically go through a recycling process, in which they are sorted, de-inked and separated into different components such as plastic, precious metals, and ferrous metals…the plastics and the metals are basically reborn as new products,” Faga said.

Edmonds said the ink is either used as a fuel in incineration processes or disposed of as hazardous waste.

Because HP runs and operates its own recycling plant, the opportunity exists for recycling managers to work with design engineers and discuss the most environmentally sound ways to produce a product, to make it easier to recycle at the end of its lifecycle.

“A good example of this was when we changed some of the design of our inkjet cartridges. Instead of using glue to [stick] them together, we design them so they can snap-fit together…we improved the recycleability of the individual cartridge by 25 per cent because the plastic was cleaner,” Edmonds said.

Vanderpol said that recycling IT products in Canada is still nascent in terms of infrastructure development. He added that Canada still has a ways to go in order to ensure that not only is this waste collected and either refurbished or recycled, but that it is done so in a manner that is considered to be environmentally sound.

“And that is certainly key because what could end up happening, is that we collect all this stuff and we have no home for it. Where would it likely go? Well, it would likely leave Canada, and once it leaves Canada it’s hard to say how much control you’d have over what’s happening to the equipment,” Vanderpol said.

A postage-paid plastic bag will be taped to the inside panel of all inkjet cartridge boxes. If the bag has been lost by the product’s end-of life, a new one can be requested online.