When you throw your used ink cartridges away, their lives are only just beginning. Most U.K. cartridges get disposed of in landfills. There, the trace remnants of ink left over in the sponges inside cartridges, and in the cartridges themselves, can gradually leach into soil and water. The plastics from the cartridges contain harmful chemicals, and those can also make their way into the surrounding environment. These plastics can take more than a thousand years to break down completely in soil.
Only about 15% of the 65 million printer ink and toner cartridges used in the U.K. are recycled. Many people don’t realize how much damage they cause to the environment by throwing them away—and wouldn’t know how to recycle them if they wanted to. Here are five places you can recycle your cartridges instead of throwing them away.
Send them to the manufacturer. Most original manufacturers will accept your used cartridges for recycling. Manufacturers that will take used ink and toner cartridges include Epson [http://www.epson.com/cgi-bin/Store/Recycle/RecycleProgram.jsp?BV_UseBVCookie=yes], Brother [http://www.brother-usa.com/Environment/TonerInkDisposal.aspx], Canon [http://www.canon.com/environment/return/index.html], Hewlett Packard [http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/globalcitizenship/environment/recycle/index.html?jumpid=reg_R1002_USEN], and Lexmark [http://www.lexmark.com/lexmark/content/withoutnav/home/0,7316,204816596_1099884817_0_en,00.html]. These companies will often provide postage-paid mailing materials either enclosed within the packaging or available for order through the website. In most cases, their recycling efforts are global and you can get packaging to send cartridges back to them whether you live in the U.S., Europe, Britain, Australia, or anywhere in between.
Give them to a store. Some stores will take your old cartridges for recycling and, if the manufacturers cooperate, they may offer discounts on new cartridges in trade for old ones. Some office supply stores have recycling boxes out to collect used cartridges, but at most stores you’ll have to ask.
In addition, some larger stores will allow you to mail your cartridges into their recycling centers. Staples’ Inkdrop program [http://www.staples.com/office/supplies/spotCenter?storeId=10001&langId=-1&catalogId=10051] is a good example; they give you prepaid envelopes and will deliver new cartridges to you in exchange for your old ones.
Check with your municipal recycling centre. Most public recycling centres don’t recycle ink cartridges, but some do—and if your local recycling centre isn’t vocal about what it recycles, you may not realize. Even if your town has a recycling program where your glass and plastics are picked up at home, your recycling centre may take other materials such as cartridges if you deliver them yourself. Check with your local centre—and if they don’t recycle ink and toner cartridges, they may know another recycling facility that does.
Recycle through a nonprofit. Some nonprofits concentrate only on recycling cartridges and other print and computer disposables; others have facilities that can recycle a wide variety of materials including cartridges. In the U.K., check out GreenSource [http://www.greensource.co.uk/], Cartridges4Charity [http://www.cartridges4charity.co.uk/], and Empty Cartridge Ltd., [http://www.emptycartridge.co.uk/index.asp]. Many recycling charities will pick up your cartridges for you. GreenSource charges a small yearly fee for membership, Cartridges4Charity donates the proceeds to charity, and Empty Cartridge Ltd. will actually pay you for donated cartridges.
Sell them to third-party companies. Third-party remanufacturers collect used cartridges, refill them and sell them at significant discounts. Some will allow you to send them your old ink and toner cartridges, and may pay you for the effort. Do some research and get in touch with a few well-known third-party manufacturers to see who’s willing to take your old cartridges—and who’s willing to pay for them.
Donate locally. Local nonprofit organizations will sometimes hold recycling drives. During these drives they ask for donations for recyclable materials—these can include cell phones, printers, computers, cartridges, and other materials. Typically they’ll send their materials to a nonprofit that pays for recyclables, and use the proceeds to further their causes. If you want to donate locally, look into your area’s schools, libraries, religious organizations, and other charities.
Recycling your ink and toner cartridges isn’t hard. You can easily find a way to mail them in without paying postage; some companies will even send new cartridges to you in return. Some organizations will come to your house to pick up your cartridges, and others will pay you for them or donate the proceeds to a worthy cause. With all the ways available to recycle your cartridges, it’s surprising that anyone throws them away.