Every office in the UK and a lot of the country’s households use up millions of ink and toner cartridges every year. They are ubiquitous consumables, and as such you’d think that a big proportion – maybe three-quarters or so – of them would be recycled once they’re empty. Unbelievably, however, this estimate is hugely optimistic – less than 20% of the 65 million cartridges used in the UK each year are recycled. That’s around 50 million in landfill a year. Every year.
Cartridges don’t belong in landfill
Take a toner cartridge; the plastics in this cartridge – that includes the ink as well as the case – take anything up to a millennium to degrade. Black toner is also considered to be carcinogenic, and other colours are irritants. This isn’t great news for the environment or people’s health and it’s quite unnecessary, because 97% of a toner cartridge can be recycled.
A lot to be gained (or at least, not wasted)
It’d be great if everyone recycled their cartridges. This is probably unrealistic, so if just a few cartridges, say 100,000, were recycled there’d be huge benefits. This number would mean almost 10 tonnes of aluminium, 40 tonnes of plastic and one million litres of oil would be saved each year. Think about how good this would be if the recycling rate reached 90-100%! This is one of the reasons retailers like Cartridge People sell remanufactured cartridges.
The reason recycling rates are so low in the UK is because a lot of people aren’t aware that cartridges can be recycled. For others, they know, but they lack the facilities or the time.
Make it easy on yourself
It’s becoming easier to recycle cartridges, thankfully. The bigger manufacturers all have a Freepost facility to receive empties into their refurbishing and recycling programmes. You don’t have to do this every month, you could save up all your cartridges and send them off once or twice a year if you’re pushed for time.
There are a couple of pitfalls
The companies’ recycling programmes are brilliant, but each manufacturer will only accept its own cartridges, as you can no doubt imagine. If you work in a large company that uses several different brands of cartridge, this could become a pain, as you may need several different boxes and several different post-runs. You can always look for an independent company to collect your empty cartridges for you, of course, or use council facilities.
Phone a friend
Unless you have a willing workforce, you’ll probably be better off using a third party or your local council to collect and sort your empties for you. Most local councils in the UK have a cartridge collection service, so speak to your local offices.
Every little helps
Unfortunately, not everyone will be able to access council-run collection and recycling schemes, and not every company or household uses enough cartridges to engage a third-party service. Don’t despair, though, you can still do your bit. If you can’t contribute to the recycling loop, you can take from it by only buying refurbished cartridges.
Maria Fonseca is the Editor and Infographic Artist for IntelligentHQ. She is also a thought leader writing about social innovation, sharing economy, social business, and the commons. Aside her work for IntelligentHQ, Maria Fonseca is a visual artist and filmmaker that has exhibited widely in international events such as Manifesta 5, Sao Paulo Biennial, Photo Espana, Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Joshibi University and many others. She concluded her PhD on essayistic filmmaking , taken at University of Westminster in London and is preparing her post doc that will explore the links between creativity and the sharing economy.