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 user 2007-10-29 at 12:28:00 pm Views: 50
  • #18977

    HP’s Printer Cartridges Are an E-Waste Disaster — Does the Company Really Care?
    2007 We live in a technology-addicted culture, and the race for the
    latest electronics is taking its toll on the environment. Electronic
    waste, or e-waste, is now the fastest-growing part of the municipal
    waste stream.But as people become more conscious of their “carbon
    footprints” or their environmental impact, programs are cropping up to
    recycling common e-waste like cell phones and computers. However, when
    it comes to printer cartridges, there is a lot of work to be done.
    Especially when it comes to industry leader Hewlett-Packard, which is
    trying to wipe its carbon footprint clean.HP dominates the printer
    cartridge market. According to Andy Lippman, an industry analyst at
    Lyra Research, HP produces more than half of the 500 million ink-jet
    and 75 million laser cartridges sold annually in North America alone.
    Considering that about half of the empties those ink-jet cartridges
    replace are simply thrown away, it’s no wonder HP seeks to clean up the
    e-waste mess it perpetuates.

    HP has an e-cycling (or electronic
    recycling) process that is convenient and astonishingly simple, given
    HP’s global reach. Here’s how it works: Most of its new cartridges come
    equipped with a postage-paid shipping label or green mailer envelope
    for customers to drop their empties in the mail, free of charge. Those
    empties have already added up to 143 million recycled cartridges
    worldwide. It’s the kind of environmental stewardship that led Fortune
    Magazine to call HP a “green giant” this year.But there are cracks in
    HP’s e-cycling façade, wide enough for environmental watchdogs like
    Greenpeace to be concerned and for recycling alternatives to
    emerge.This past July, HP met its goal for recycling one billion pounds
    of electronic products six months ahead of schedule. According to Jean
    Gingras, HP’s environmental marketing manager for North America,
    recycled ink-jet and laser cartridges comprised more than 25 percent of
    that total — some 260 million pounds. The company anticipates similar
    numbers for its next billion pounds of e-waste, which it intends to
    collect by 2010. “HP designs with the environment in mind,” Gingras
    said. While these numbers seem laudable at first glance, Greenpeace is
    holding its applause.

    In September, Greenpeace released the
    latest installment of its quarterly “Guide to Greener Electronics,” in
    which HP ranked among the bottom of 15 companies on the quest to go
    green. The report contended that among HP’s more heinous crimes against
    the planet is its failure to eliminate vinyl plastics (PVCs) and
    brominated flame retardants (BFRs) from its products. These hazardous
    materials are virtually impossible to recycle and wreak havoc on our
    environment. PVCs and BFRs that end up in incinerators, smelters or
    landfill fires release dioxins and other carcinogens into the air. The
    materials can also leach into the soil and wind up in our food
    chain.Both PVCs and BFRs can be found in printers and printer
    cartridges. Iza Kruszewska, a Greenpeace International Toxics
    Campaigner, said that BFRs can be found in the green circuit boards on
    cartridges. While BFRs and PVCs can certainly be found in the
    cartridges of other companies as well, HP bears the burden of producing
    the largest number of cartridges currently available. To date, HP has
    no products available that are PVC-free or BFR-free, nor has HP issued
    a timetable for eliminating all uses of PVCs or BFRs from its
    products.Gingras claimed that, over the past decade, HP has removed 95
    percent of BFRs and PVCs from its products. She also insisted that no
    components of its recycled cartridges end up in landfills. But others,
    like Rick Hind, the legislative director of Greenpeace’s Toxic
    Campaign, disagree. “Those materials have to go somewhere. There’s no
    safe disposal of PVCs or BFRs, in the same way you can’t dispose of
    radioactive material,” he said.While to some, removing 95 percent of
    BFRs and PVCs is impressive, the sheer volume of cartridges HP produces
    means that there are still too many products out there containing these
    hazardous materials. In North America alone, that remaining 5 percent
    of HP cartridges containing BFRs and PVCs is equal to 12.5 million
    ink-jet and another 3.75 million laser cartridges. This staggering
    number is why Greenpeace has demanded HP set a timetable for
    eliminating BFRs and PVCs.

    Reduce, reuse, recycle
    It is not
    just the chemicals in HP’s products that are of concern — but also
    their recycling.Recycling printer cartridges consists of reducing the
    empty cartridges down to raw materials that are then used to
    manufacture new plastic or metal products. HP uses these materials to
    create auto body parts, clothes hangers, roof tiles, spools, and
    serving trays, along with a slew of other products. HP even sells a
    scanner made from 25 percent recycled ink-jet cartridge plastic and 75
    percent recycled plastic bottles. Yet despite these innovative
    endeavors, HP has turned recycling into a business in highly dubious

    For starters, HP refuses to remanufacture printer
    cartridges. Remanufacturing takes empty cartridges, cleans and refills
    them with high-quality toner and resells them at a fraction of the cost
    of buying a new cartridge. Above all, remanufacturing ensures that
    empty cartridges won’t wind up in landfills. Gingras said that HP’s
    concern over remanufactured cartridges lies in their reusability. She
    pointed to a study (commissioned by HP) in which the print quality is
    degraded using refurbished cartridges. “What we’ve seen is that there’s
    more waste generated during reuse,” Gingras said, “since there’s a need
    to reprint pages with poor quality and use more ink and paper.”HP’s
    stats are debatable considering remanufactured cartridges can last
    longer and contain up to 20 percent more ink than new cartridges.
    Either way, HP’s decision not to remanufacture cartridges seems more
    like a business move than an environmental concern.Andy Lippman of Lyra
    Research explained, “It doesn’t make sense for [HP] to remanufacture
    cartridges because, logistically, it would be very expensive for them.”
    Lippman referred to the “razor and blades” business model for selling
    ink-jet printers. Printers are sold at low or below cost (many are
    bundled for “free” in computer sales) because companies like HP make up
    their costs on cartridges. Since remanufactured cartridges can be
    upwards of 40 percent to 60 percent cheaper than the original
    manufacturer’s, HP is merely watching out for its profit margins by
    designing cartridges for one-time usage.

    HP has created a
    recycling Catch-22. It has made recycling easy, but by not offering
    remanufactured printer cartridges, customers have no choice but to buy
    new cartridges at full price. In March, Recharger Magazine, a trade
    publication, reported that Staples discontinued the sale of all
    HP-compatible store-brand printer cartridges. Other industry leaders
    like Dell, Canon and Lexmark allow companies like Staples to offer
    cheaper store-brand cartridges that are compatible with their
    printers.HP also has some products, such as its 90 series of ink-jet
    cartridges, that will not work outside of the United States. This
    maneuver, assessed Rick Hind, “undermines the company’s global takeback
    policy,” since it limits the global market of empty cartridges and
    overseas recycling. In other words, while HP is recycling millions of
    printer cartridges, it has created a system that guarantees the
    production of millions more.

    The alternatives
    alleges that in general, HP has recently weakened its stance on
    individual producer responsibility. “Polluters should pay,” Hind
    explained. “Companies should be financially and mechanically fully
    responsible for taking back all their waste globally.” Unlike in the
    European Union, there is no federal legislation in the United States or
    China regarding individual producer responsibility, meaning that
    recycling is left up to the states, and HP is left largely off the
    hook.There are alternatives to recycling with HP, some of which are
    financially rewarding for customers. Staples, for instance, gives
    customers $3 off their next printer cartridge purchase for each empty
    cartridge they bring in, regardless of brand. Then there are
    independent chains that have cropped up across the country in recent
    years, like the Cartridge Recycling Center, which offers even more cash
    for cartridges.Tom Dougherty of Cartridge Recycling said his company
    will send a business or school collection boxes with prepaid postage,
    paying up to $4 per cartridge. The center in turn sells these empties
    back to companies that remanufacture, and they currently process 20,000
    cartridges a month.As Jean Gingras said, HP has no qualms with its
    recycling competitors, which is understandable given the monopoly they
    have created over their products. Gingras did say that customers ought
    to make sure materials are recycled properly and that nothing goes to
    landfills. Now the only question that remains is whether HP will do the