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Amy Brown headshot

HP Takes the Circular Economy to the Next Level

HP says it is building circular supply chains to include more post-consumer plastic in its products, keeping plastic waste from entering the world's oceans.
By Amy Brown
circular economy

For a company that has been recycling its hardware and toner cartridges since the 1980s, moving to a circular economy was not that big of a leap for printer and personal computer leader HP Inc. Now the company says it is determined to build new, circular supply chains and lead the industry on incorporating post-consumer plastic in its products and keep that waste out of the oceans.

“Our commitment to the circular economy stretches back a really long time,” Nate Hurst, Chief Sustainability and Social Impact Officer at HP Inc., told TriplePundit. “Long before recycling became mainstream, we were thinking with that mindset. Our engineers get very excited about the circular economy and want to be leaders in this space.”

Hurst pointed out that 27 years ago, the company established its Planet Partners Program, a product return and recycling program now available in 47 countries worldwide. Through 2018, according to its recently released 2018 “Sustainable Impact” Report, HP has manufactured over 4.2 billion HP ink and toner cartridges using more than a cumulative 107,000 metric tons of recycled plastic.

This effort, according to the company, has kept 830 million HP cartridges and an estimated 101 million apparel hangers and 4.37 billion post-consumer plastic bottles out of landfills; instead, HP says it is now upcycling these materials for continued use.

More than 80 percent of “Original” HP ink cartridges contain 45 percent to 70 percent post-consumer recycled content, and 100 percent of these HP toner cartridges contain five percent to 45 percent post-consumer or post-industrial recycled content. The company has pledged to increased recycled content in its personal computing systems and print hardware supplies to 30 percent by 2025.

Disruption is at the heart of HP’s approach

HP’s approach focuses on three aspects, Hurst explained. First, decouple growth from consumption and find solutions that use less resources, where the materials can be used at the highest value for the longest possible time, and where the products can be repurposed at the end of their life cycles.

Second, he continued, is “disrupting industry models, creating more of a service model, such as our managed print and device services, subscription-based services to ensure resources are not wasted. We can swap out to the latest technology to get the most energy efficient use out of that product. We help customers extend the life of the product, limit its energy use and make sure that recycling and refurbishment happens.”

Another example, Hurst said, are the HP Instant Ink printing plans, which help home users and microbusinesses in 18 countries remain productive by ensuring they never run out of ink. The service anticipates when ink is running low and sends replenishments and new recycling envelopes straight to customers’ doors. Customers save up to 50 percent on ink while decreasing the carbon footprint of ink purchase and disposal by 84 percent, reducing energy use by 86 percent, and lowering water usage by 89 percent, according to HP’s most recent sustainability report.

A circular economy boost for Haiti and ocean plastic recycling

The third leg of the circular economy approach, he added, is collaboration with partners and customers to create new circular economy models. As one example, in 2016 HP began partnering with the First Mile Coalition to actively reduce ocean-bound plastic in Haiti by converting plastic bottles into recycled material used in HP ink cartridges. These efforts have already diverted approximately 716,000 pounds of plastic materials—or more than 25 million bottles—preventing this plastic from reaching waterways and oceans and instead, repurposed into HP cartridges. 

In April, HP announced a $2 million investment in a plastic washing line in Haiti to expand the company’s ocean-bound plastic supply chain. This new facility will allow HP to produce cleaner, higher quality recycled plastic locally for use in the company’s products. The initiative is also expected to create more than 1,000 new income opportunities locally, according to HP.

“We didn’t have to source from a very poor country with very limited infrastructure like Haiti,” Hurst explains, “but if we are going to live true to our purpose-- to create technology that makes life better for everyone everywhere—we have to figure out ways to source from economies that haven’t quite emerged yet, where we might create a real market-based and sustainable system that could have an impact for a country like Haiti –a greater impact than just writing a check in the aftermath of a natural disaster.”

Sustainability - a $900 million contribution to new revenue for HP

The numbers speak to the success of HP’s approach, according to Hurst. HP’s sustainability programs drove more than $900 million of new revenue, a 35 percent increase from the previous year.

“That’s real bottom line growth as we lean into sustainable impact more and more,” Hurst said. “That allows you to have a different conversation with consumers and with the Board.”

“Customers no longer want to have a tradeoff between buying a product that can have a sustainable impact or a good price and quality; they kind of expect all of that. Because we’ve been at it awhile, that’s our mantra. What’s good for the environment in the long term is good for business.”

Image credit: HP

Amy Brown headshot

Based in Florida, Amy has covered sustainability for over 25 years, including for TriplePundit, Reuters Sustainable Business and Ethical Corporation Magazine. She also writes sustainability reports and thought leadership for companies. She is the ghostwriter for Sustainability Leadership: A Swedish Approach to Transforming Your Company, Industry and the World. Connect with Amy on LinkedIn and her Substack newsletter focused on gray divorce, caregiving and other cultural topics.

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