Nearly twenty years ago an engineer at HP Inc. came up with the concept of improving the company’s ink cartridge recycling program (HP Planet Partners) by upcycling the plastics into new products. For HP, turning that great idea into an actionable plan sparked a fruitful collaboration with a Canadian poster child for the circular economy: Montreal-based Lavergne Group Inc.
“Canadians have been recycling for 30 years,” said Frances Edmonds, Head of Sustainable Impact for HP, “but the linear economy has not been transparent about the outcomes of our residential recycling programs. As we transition to a circular economy, we can now see where these materials go and whether they are put to good use.”
Moving to an upcycled, more sustainable recycling processes took HP and Lavergne more than five years and there were many challenges along the way. Plastics are chemically unique. They don’t break down easily and contamination makes them tough to either recycle or upcycle. Nevertheless, the project advanced, driven by a strong collaborative spirit and a sincere desire to advance the circular economy.
Time is running out
“The window of opportunity to slow the climate crisis is closing fast,” explains Edmonds, “People may understand that we all need to take action, but more urgency is needed. At HP, Sustainable Impact is at the heart of our reinvention journey—fueling innovation, growth, and strengthening our business for the long-term, and we’re getting real, measurable results.”
A key result of the collaboration with Lavergne Group is the development of a closed loop system, a process in which plastics generated from recycled cartridges goes into the manufacturing of plastics used to produce new HP ink cartridges. One of the world’s cleanest and easiest ways to recycle used ink cartridges, this system has enabled HP to dramatically lower the footprint of the plastics used in its cartridges. To date, HP has produced over four billion ink and toner cartridges with recycled content from 830 million cartridges, 101 million hangers, and 4.3 billion water bottles (Source).
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The HP/Lavergne collaboration has also resulted in the development of a cartridge disassembly machine that improves the recovery of plastic by 50 per cent, contributing to its industry-leading goal to increase recycled content plastic in its Personal Systems and Print hardware and supplies to 30 per cent by 2025, as seen in HP’s Sustainable Impact Report. HP has added recycled plastics into hardware products and works with the Lavergne Group to incorporate a clean stream of recycled polypropylene into a new family of cartridges.
Still work to be done
Edmonds was pleased to see Lavergne Group founder, Jean-Luc Lavergne, receive a prestigious Clean 50 Award in 2018 and she is proud of the progress HP has made, but she has no illusions about the amount of work that still needs to be done when it comes to raising sustainability awareness.
“Effecting change means being vocal on matters that impact the environment,” she says. “The more you do something, and the more you talk loudly about it, the more businesses and their customers will get on board and the more momentum will increase.”
In this regard, HP leads by example, reducing the energy consumption of its personal systems by 43 per cent since 2010. As a way of promoting the purchase of eco-friendly products, HP created a Sustainability Buyer’s Guide that details the attributes of items such as ink cartridges, printers and monitors. For example, the HP Elite Display E243 23.8-inch monitor is made with more than 30 per cent post-consumer recycled content by weight of plastic.
Individuals can make a difference
“The ability to invoke change doesn’t end with big corporations,” says Edmonds. “Consumers also have a role to play in reducing their environmental impact. Whether it’s purchasing products that are designed to lower their impact such as containing recycled materials, refurbishing old products, or choosing to recycle devices at the end of life stage, these individual actions contribute to the bigger picture of preserving the environment.”
Edmonds is proud that embracing change comes naturally to HP. “This has been our modus operandi,” she says. “This is how we view true leadership — as a means of turning great ideas into bold action and real change across the board.”