HP Boasts Crushing 100K Cartridges a Day
According to HP’s Chief Sustainability Officer James McCall (pictured left in the photo), “We process nearly 100,000 cartridges a day.”
McCall gave Marketplace a tour of the HP ink cartridge recycling facility run by Sims Lifecycle Services in La Vergne, Tennessee. The 7,500 square-meter (80,000-square-foot) facility is one way HP is working toward another climate goal: circularity.
“So these ink cartridges, what we want is to take this plastic and turn it back into the next device,” McCall added.
Most HP ink cartridges are made with at least 50% recycled plastic. Ink cartridges are a substantial part of HP’s business because consumers purchase them more regularly than printers and computers. HP has manufactured more than 5.4 billion ink cartridges through 2021.
According to McCall, HP ink cartridges of all sizes come to La Vergne from across the United States, Canada and Mexico after consumers return them via mail or by dropping them off at retailers like Staples or Walmart.
The 30 people who work at the facility sort the used cartridges, disassemble them and shred the plastic casings for use in future products. On the day of Marketplace’s visit, the site manager estimated they were holding 4 million to 5 million ink cartridges.
The first step of recycling those millions of returned ink cartridges is sorting them on a conveyor belt. The system uses cameras and artificial intelligence to group the cartridges by size and shape to make them easier to disassemble.
“We’ve learned our way into this process,” McCall said. “Several years ago, HP had to kind of invent this as we went along. … Some of our first test models were taking an old washing machine and starting to put cartridges in it to see if we could clean them. We borrowed an old chicken processing line from Tyson and we figured out if we could use that for sorting processes. So, what you’re seeing now is the second and third generation of that.”
Once the cartridges are sorted, they head to the other side of the building for disassembly and plastic shredding. A machine scrapes the sticker off the top of the ink cartridges, removes the lids and takes out the foam and precious metals inside the cartridges. That leaves the hollow cartridge, which is shredded.
The average ink cartridge spends two to three months in La Vergne. Then, the finished product — the shredded plastic — is sent to another plant in Canada where it gets mixed with other recycled plastics and turned into pellets. The pellets are sent to HP’s manufacturing locations, including Malaysia and China, where they are used to make new ink cartridges that go to market.
According to HP, its sustainable impact efforts added $3.5 billion in new sales in the fiscal year 2021, a three-fold increase over the prior year but still a fraction of the company’s $63.5 billion revenue.
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