This form of pollution contributes to the majority of overall toxic waste produced in industrial and urban areas. This has created a need to come up with new and improved solutions to decrease the amount of electronic waste produced yearly.
These solutions may take different shapes, as they can be to change consumer consumption patterns, creating new technologies or coming up with new ways to recycle.
High numbers of printer cartridges are disposed of yearly, and they have become a major contributor to the electronic waste crisis. These cartridges contain carbon, plastic and toxic coloring agents that take decades or centuries to biodegrade.
Printer Cartridge Facts
To understand how the cartridge manufacturing process and improper disposal of these affects the environment, it's important to be aware of some facts:
- The International Journal of Innovation indicated in 2012 that up to 375 million toner and printer cartridges were disposed of yearly. Over the course of a year, this means around 660 cartridges per minute.
- Large numbers of these printer cartridges end up in landfills, but a large amount of them are incinerated, releasing toxins into the atmosphere. Some of these toxins, such as dioxins, are carcinogenic. Even if they aren’t inhaled, they still pollute crops and water supplies.
- There are several ways that printer cartridges can be recycled, but studies estimate that only half of used cartridges end up being recycled or remanufactured.
Impacts on Natural Resources
When printer cartridges are not recycled, the manufacturer needs to purchase new materials instead of reusing old materials from recycled cartridges. Each cartridge is made up of metals and plastic that contains limited-supply natural resources. Plastic comes from oil, and metals such as aluminum or copper are mined. Having to purchase these new materials, it means that more limited resources are being used.
Throwing away a printer cartridge along with regular trash means that it will most likely end up in a landfill or incinerator. As mentioned previously, some components in printer cartridges take centuries to break down. As it starts to break down, the remaining ink leaks out, polluting its immediate surroundings. The smoke from incinerating the cartridges can be carcinogenic, as well as a pollutant and smog contributor. The metal parts leave a residue needing to be stored in landfills.
Printer cartridges not being recycled can contribute to global warming. By using a recycled cartridge, the manufacturer does not need to produce new materials, leading to a shorter manufacturing process producing fewer greenhouse gases. HP is a leader in recycling ink cartridges. They have been manufacturing their cartridges with recycled plastic, therefore reducing gas emissions. They believe that some of the plastic has been through their cycle ten times. This process has replaced plastic that would have needed to be refined from petroleum.
The more energy that is being used in manufacture and production, the more the earth is affected. More oil needs to be produced and burnt, additional power plants need to be built, and more solar panels and wind turbines need to be installed. When printer cartridges are not being recycled, manufacturing a new one uses a significant amount than using a recycled printer cartridge. This supplemental use of energy is harmful to the environment as all energy production sources use natural resources. Even wind turbines or solar panels, which do not need fossil fuel power to run, need to be transported to the site, and use mined metals.
Solutions for Printer Cartridge Waste
By recycling or safely disposing of electronic waste, it’s conceivable that the environmental impacts caused by printer cartridges can be significantly reduced. One efficient way to recycle is to send back printer cartridges to be remanufactured. These cartridges take a lot less energy to be produced and have the same performance as new toners when industry standard methods are used in their production.
Remanufacturing printer cartridges means that raw materials can be saved, as up to 97% of the original components can be reused when it is being remanufactured. At peak efficiency, a remanufactured cartridge will need only 1/9th of the raw materials needed when manufacturing a brand new printer cartridge.