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 user 2009-09-29 at 11:31:03 am Views: 59
  • #22588
    California’s ‘green’ ink-cartridge recycling fails to cut pollution, or costs
    On paper, the recycling program was touted as a bold step toward California’s green, climate-friendly future.A mountain of plastic and metal would be diverted from landfills. Greenhouse gas emissions would tumble. And one of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s climate change goals – trimming power use in state buildings by 20 percent – would nudge closer to reality as agencies snapped up new, more efficient office printers.That is what state and Hewlett-Packard officials said last year when they joined forces to ship used HP printer ink cartridges from state offices to Virginia to be ground up and recycled into auto parts, serving trays, clothes hangers and other products.But a Bee investigation, based on more than 100 pages of e-mails and other records, has found that 17 months after it was created, the program has delivered few if any of its promised climate benefits.

    Almost from the start it ran into opposition from the state’s purchasing specialists at the Department of General Services, who were not consulted about it and who – once they started asking questions – turned up other concerns, including allegations of unfair competition and ink waste.They also favored reusing cartridges by refilling them at local businesses, a process known as remanufacturing.”It is to HP’s advantage to get as many remanufacturable cartridges off the market as possible,” Robert Tetz, manager of the department’s environmentally preferable purchasing program, said in an e-mail to his boss last year. “I don’t believe that this partnership arrangement passes the smell test.”

    The recycling plan is one of many purportedly eco-friendly initiatives launched in California
    A state that portrays itself as a green-minded model for the world. But Scot Case, who investigates green marketing claims, said the state HP plan is the wrong choice for the environment.”It is completely ridiculous to ship a product from California to Virginia to be reground when you could refill those cartridges in California and reuse them,” said Case, vice president of TerraChoice Environmental Marketing, which places the green “EcoLogo” label on thousands of consumer products – but not on new printer cartridges.”You would use fewer resources,” Case said. “And you would create significantly less global warming impacts.”For their part, most DGS employees are not free to speak to The Bee. “We have a policy that we have high-level spokespeople … respond to questions,” said Jeffrey Young, the agency’s deputy director of public affairs.And Tetz, the green purchasing manager, has been ordered to clam up. “Bob, per my voicemail, I need you to stand down on any communication with Mr. Knudson. Call me …” Jim Butler, DGS’ chief procurement officer, said in an e-mail.

    But their views come through clearly in electronic correspondence.
    “The bottom line is that it is environmentally preferable and fiscally prudent to buy remanufactured toner cartridges for state laser printers from California small businesses,” wrote Ben Martin, an engineering branch manager at DGS, in an e-mail to a colleague.

    Targeting a river of waste
    Printer cartridges are a mainstay of the modern office – and a vexing waste problem. One 2007 industry report estimated 46 percent of the larger kind, known as laser jet cartridges, and 84 percent of the smaller inkjet cartridges are dumped in landfills after one use. A follow-up study, commissioned by HP, found 34 percent of the company’s laser jet cartridges and 78 percent of its inkjets end up in landfills after one use.The state-HP recycling effort was aimed at shrinking that river of waste by diverting up to 100 tons of spent state cartridges from landfills every year. But state and HP officials said it would have an additional benefit, striking a blow against climate change by curbing greenhouse gas emissions by 500 tons annually.Here’s how it was supposed to work: For every HP cartridge purchased and recycled, state agencies would earn points toward buying new, more energy-efficient HP printers. Top officials said that would trim power use and slice pollution.