Green Printing: Refill Then Recycle Ink Cartridges

by Nicola Temple on November 22, 2011

Over 1.1 billion inkjet cartridges are used each year globally. Despite it being extremely easy to recycle ink cartridges, a mere 30% of these are recycled. That’s a lot of waste.

The plastics that go into printer cartridges are high grade engineered plastics, which take around 1,000 years to degrade.

They are petroleum based, which means that we could save around 1 million liters of oil for every 100,000 cartridges we recycle (source). That’s a lot of savings.

So, how can you recycle your ink cartridges?

There seems to be a natural evolution in the life of an ink cartridge, none of which needs to involve a landfill.

recycle ink cartridges

Almost all print supply outlets have programs that make it easy to recycle ink cartridges. It's usually just a matter of dropping them off. CC image courtesy of Robbie Sproule on Flickr.

Refill first if you can

Most ink cartridges can be refilled, so this should be the first thing you consider doing once your cartridges get low on ink. Some people claim that refilled cartridges have more printing issues such as lines across the page, however I’ve refilled our ink cartridges for years and never had a problem.

You have two choices here, take it into professionals or do it yourself.

Let the professionals do it: There are many companies that refill ink cartridges. You can even find them in little kiosk stalls at shopping malls and they’ll refill your cartridges while you shop. Otherwise, many will simply take your old cartridges and give you credit toward the purchase of their refilled cartridges. The advantage here is obviously that it saves you time and likely a little mess. The disadvantage is that it will cost you a bit more than doing it yourself.  Also, professional refill places will usually only refill a cartridge three times. After that, there is concern that the cartridge itself might be compromised, which could cause problems printing.

Do it yourself: Most ink cartridges can be refilled relatively easily. Refill kits are available for specific brand names and printer models, such as HP, Lexmark, Brother, and Canon or you can get a refill kit that isn’t associated with a particular brand.  Be aware that universal ink refill kits may not be an exact colour and quality match to the brand name inks. So, if you’re fussy about your ink, you might want to consider going with a brand name.  The advantages of doing it yourself are that you can do it whenever you need (for that midnight report printing) and it is more economical. The disadvantage is that there is the potential for mess.  However, this video shows you just how simple refilling can be:

TIP: If you’re worried about the print quality of refilled cartridges, then keep a set of new cartridges for important prints such as photos or presentations. When you’re done your important print, seal up the new cartridges and return your refilled cartridges to the printer.

Continuous supply ink for heavy users

If you go through a lot of ink cartridges and find yourself refilling constantly, you might want to consider investing in a continuous ink supply.

This system essentially consists of cartridges that are printer brand specific connected through tiny tubes to a series of large ink containers. The cartridge is filled from the container continuously (hence the name) and you can refill the containers as they get low without having to remove the cartridges at all.

My husband and I print full color photo calendars for our family and friends each year and so when we’re in full print production, we switch over to our continuous ink supply system so that we don’t have to be refilling cartridges constantly.

It’s a very good system, but it’s really only useful if you’re doing a lot of printing. If you let it sit too long, the ink drains back out of the cartridges and the printer head dries out and it’s suddenly more trouble than it’s worth.

Remember that these systems are printer specific as the cartridge needs to fit into your printer. Here are some available on Amazon:

Recycle as a final step

If your cartridges have been refilled too often or have been damaged, then it is finally time to recycle them.

Ink cartridges are generally ground up, creating small plastic fragments that are incorporated into the production of new cartridges (look for cartridges that have recycled content).

For most businesses, your printing suppliers will usually take away used ink and toner cartridges when they come to drop off refilled ones. Nothing could be easier, just take out the old one and place it in the box of the replacement cartridge and set it aside for pick-up.

For small businesses and individuals, you can usually recycle your cartridges at office supply stores such as Staples and Office Depot.  Refill places, such as Cartridge World, also take your old cartridges for recycling.

It’s easy, so there’s no excuse not to recycle ink cartridges. Also, with refilled cartridges costing as much as 65% less than new cartridges, recycling is an economical choice for the environment. So go green and save yourself some green in the process!

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