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 user 2009-10-23 at 10:20:33 am Views: 52
  • #22834

    Matt Chapman talks to HP about its recycling efforts and how they have evolved since the early days.
    IT has a dirty little secret. Everyone seems to know that the airline industry contributes two per cent of the world’s global greenhouse gasses, but who makes up the rest?“The one thing that people don’t talk about is that IT also contributes about two per cent,” admits Bruno Zago, UK and Ireland environmental manager at HP. “The thing is, that IT figure is set to rise. It’ll probably reach around four per cent across the globe by 2020.”

    Such an alarming figure isn’t going unchecked by an industry that now finds itself fighting to conserve materials, improve efficiency and recycle more of its products.“People totally underestimate the amount this industry invests in research and development pushing the boundaries forward. You’ve only really got to look back a few years and see just how fast we’re printing now and how much the quality has ramped up in such a short period of time. The amount of investment that’s gone on there is staggering,” says Peter Mayhew, director at Lyra Research.“It’s inevitable you now see that coming out through environmental initiatives.”Zago says HP’s green efforts began in 1992 when the company founded its Design For Environment programme, appointing product stewards to work from an environmental prospective. “Back in 1992 all the product designers were going, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, nobody’s interested in that at the moment. Get back in your box.’ But now the product stewards don’t have to go to the product designers anymore because the designers go to them saying, ‘What have you got for me? How can I make this better?’” Zago reveals.Zago claims HP has also expanded its environmental campaign in other areas of its business. Improvements in the supply chain mean HP knows where its notebooks are being shipped, cutting down two huge manuals to one six-page booklet written in the local language.

    Meanwhile, laser ink cartridges have had their parts reduced by about 36 per cent, using fewer types of plastic. HP’s latest laser jet printers also require 15 per cent less energy to fuse the ink to the paper and the cartridges are about nine per cent smaller by weight. Technology has similarly been introduced to reduce wasted energy. “In a lot of our competitors’ products the fusing unit just stays hot the whole time because that’s the difficult piece in getting the first page out as quick as possible. Using instant-on technology we reckon we’ve saved around 6.5 million tonnes of CO2 emissions since its inception in 1993. That probably doesn’t mean that much to you but it’s like taking 1.4 million American cars off the road,” Zago adds.

    Dean Miller, programme lead for worldwide inkjet supplies recycling at HP, says innovation hasn’t always come easily. “There was no off-the-shelf equipment available and there was no catalogue for this equipment. And so we had to look to innovation from a number of areas,” Miller says.“HP began taking back inkjet cartridges in 1997 and the manager I work for today actually provided a washing machine that was used for the first rinsing of recycled plastics. And the envelope removal equipment that we are using in North America was developed out of designs from the agriculture industries. We’re pulling off envelopes using a similar method to the way corn is shucked in automated corn-processing plants. The sorting in the US also uses an X-ray system that came from the food industry.”Understandably, HP’s recycling attempts took a slow but steady path towards the current plants based around the world.

    Miller says it took four years for the development of the reclaimed PET plastic to reach a stage where in 2004 it could be integrated into the first product. However, that wasn’t back into an inkjet cartridge. “The first product was a small internal part on an HP scanner. It wasn’t until 2005 we got the first cartridge qualified using the recycled PET material,” he reveals. Today’s products have come a long way by comparison. “We’re not just taking the plastic and reusing it and seeing the properties diminish over time,” Miller adds. “Each time we create a new batch of material we bring the properties back up to the original state. We’ve done studies up to seven iterations and have seen no degradation whatsoever.” For all its benefits, one of the quandaries the recycling process throws up is the shipment of tonnes of cartridges and raw materials around the world. Zago answers those concerns by saying the process is still in its infancy and can be expanded in the future to cut down unnecessary transportation.

    “It goes to America today for the refining stage but the plan is that once the volumes build up and we know what we’re doing in terms of recycling and refinement then a refinement plant will be opened in each region,” he claims.The very act of recycling cartridges also throws up its own legal questions. “We can incentivise consumers to return the cartridges on a temporary basis in some countries,” explains Cristina Mannucci Benincasa, environmental marketing manager for Imaging and Printing at HP in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). “Usually this is in the range of a couple of Euros. It helps the customers become more conscious that these services exist and it’s not possible in every country.”“One of the big problems we have is around anti-competition law, because if we start to say we’ll offer you money back for cartridges, we then start to be seen to restrict companies that refill them,” adds Zago.

    Joanna Pupkowska, programme manager of imaging and hardcopy consumables at analyst IDC, also noted that HP’s decision to recycle rather than refill made sure cartridges were less likely to end up with refillers.“HP is tapping into general worldwide trends when it comes to environmental protection. On the other hand, the step that HP has taken to be green and eco friendly in its manufacturing and recycling processes helps them protect against the after market, meaning the regeneration of cartridges,” she proposed.“So the supply of empties is getting reduced on the market and it’s quite an efficient measure to reduce the competition from regenerators.”However, Pupkowska believes that both competing systems – refilling or recycling – have a similar environmental impact. “Maybe with some succession that if empties collected by other vendors do not qualify for remanufacturing after a selection process they could end up as landfill,” she added.

    With all the talk of recycling versus remanufacturing, it’s a surprise that HP hasn’t tried both options itself. “We have looked at refilling or remanufacturing and I don’t know how much you know about those processes but there are differences and I think so far we cannot achieve the quality that our customers want by refilling/remanufacturing,” Zago said.“It’s not something we’re not going to do going forward but we will look at it again in the future.”“I think that OEMs by the nature of their business model want to go down the recycling route rather than a refilling/remanufacturing route. It’s the whole razorblades business model,” concludes Lyra’s Mayhew.“I think only time will tell, because if you look at the opposite side of the coin and what re-manufacturers are doing to communicate both their value and green credentials, then you’ll hear some very strong arguments that are directly opposed to where the OEMs sit. Whether those two cultures – and they almost are cultures – will ever come together is an open question right now.”