Ink Cartridge Recycling is More Complex Than You Think

ink cartridge recyclingI’ve just wrapped up a tour of the Lavergne group recycling plant in Montreal.   Among other things, Lavergne is one of the major recycling partners for HP and Montreal is their second major recycling facility in North America (the other is in Smyrna, TN and Leon Kaye visited it last year).

It’s tempting to assume that recycling plastic ink cartridges is as simple as tossing them in a grinder, melting them down, and re-forming new cartridges. But myriad issues from quality control to plastic availability make the process a lot more complicated.

Lavergne’s process actually begins in Smyrna.  There, ink cartridges are received, sorted, cleaned, and metals and other non-plastic components removed.  Then, the proverbial grinding takes place and plastic is chopped into smaller bits sorted by type and color. At that point, the situation gets a little more complicated and Lavergne’s secret recipe comes into play.

Lavergne receives about one shipping container per day full of shredded cartridge material. As it turns out, even this quantity isn’t enough to meet the full demand for new ink cartridges.  As a result, shredded PET bottles are added – the exact amount varies according to what’s available. This combination of plastics is then mixed inside of an enormous v-shaped blending machine. Finally, it’s extruded and ground up once again into the raw material that will ultimately be used for new ink cartridges.

Why bother doing this when you could just refill the old ones and save the trouble?

It would seem logical to just refill old ink cartridges rather than going through the trouble of all this shredding, sorting, and recycling. Unfortunately, according to HP, there are so many unknown variables and quality control issues involved with re-using old cartridges that the somewhat more involved closed-loop recycling process described here remains a better option economically and environmentally.

The future challenge is how to ensure that ALL ink cartridges wind up being recycled – a complicated evolution of consumer behavior that HP is still at the beginning stage of addressing.

Take a look at the video below to see the Lavergne process.

Ed Note: Travel arrangements to Montreal were made possible by HP.

Nick Aster is a new media architect and the founder of TriplePundit.com

TriplePundit.com has since grown to become one of the web's leading sources of news and ideas on how business can be used to make the world a better place.

Prior to TriplePundit Nick worked for Mother Jones magazine, successfully re-launching the magazine's online presence. He was instrumental in the creation of TreeHugger.com, managing the technical side of the publication for 3 years as well as an active consultant for individuals and companies entering the world of micro-publishing. He earned his stripes working for Gawker Media and Moreover Technologies in the early days of blogging.

Nick holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio School of Management and graduated with a BA in History from Washington University in St. Louis.