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The Environmental Impact of Ink Cartridges: Essential Guide

Printing is an essential part of many businesses day to day running, from promotional materials in hospitality to poster board memos in office spaces. However, it’s important to consider the environmental impact of ink cartridges and the impact printing can have on the environment overall. 


We’ve put together this guide to expand on the impact ink and printing have on the environment, along with some tips and advice for minimizing that impact in the workplace. 


Environmental Impact of Ink Cartridges: Landfills


One of the most concerning aspects of ink cartridge consumption is the amount of plastic that it contributes to landfills. In 2018, over 146 million tons of municipal solid waste (MSW) was sent to landfills from the US alone, and contributing to that figure are around 375 million used ink cartridges every year. That’s more than a million cartridges sent to landfills on a daily basis. 


Landfills are one of the biggest threats to our environment in the modern world for a number of reasons. They essentially decimate ecosystems, making once natural areas totally uninhabitable to many animals and plants, along with trash often making its way into the sea. Also, landfills often rely on burning plastic waste to ensure plenty of space for more trash, and this, along with the slow decomposition of items in landfills, accounts for around 14.5% of US methane emissions a year as well as a significant amount of carbon dioxide. 


While they do add to the space taken up in landfills, printer ink cartridges also come with their own unique complications for the environment. These cartridges are filled with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and heavy metals, which pollute soils and water. It’s also worth noting that an ink cartridge takes up to 1000 years to decompose fully. With printer ink cartridges in such regular use all around the country, these facts and figures may seem unavoidable, however, there’s more to these cartridges than most people understand. 


Environmental Impact of Ink Cartridges: Recycling & Remanufacturing


What many people don’t realize is that most printer ink cartridges can be recycled and even remanufactured. Once a cartridge is fully drained of ink and cleaned properly, the plastic casing is still completely suitable for use in manufacturing. 


With proper inspections and a good production line, these empty casings can be refilled with ink, repackaged, and used for printing once again. This can be completed around two or three times before the internal components of the cartridge start to degrade and become unusable. These remanufactured ink cartridges are often cheaper than name brand alternatives, which means they could benefit your business spending while also being beneficial to the environment. 


Beyond remanufacturing, considering traditional recycling is also important. The make of an ink cartridge is actually around 97% recyclable, meaning that once the ink has been fully drained, there’s potential that the plastic casing could find a second life in any manner of recycled products. 


If you want to reduce the impact of printing, you don’t need to go specific, with something like the Best Buy Recycle Ink Cartridges, as in reality, almost all genuine ink and toner cartridges are totally recyclable. Despite this, only around 50% of toner and 30% of ink cartridges are actually recycled, meaning a major shift in behavior is becoming essential. 


Environmental Impact of Ink Cartridges: Manufacturing & Emissions


While it’s impossible to ignore the impacts that completed ink cartridges have on the planet, many neglect to consider the impact produced by making them in the first place. Not only are ink cartridges made with a variety of harmful, finite resources, but the process also contributes masses to greenhouse gas emissions. 


When it comes to the use of resources, there aren’t really any eco-friendly printer ink building blocks. Some of the materials used include harsh dyes, sulfur, Ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid, cyclohexanone, and many more. Alongside all of these harsh chemicals, ink cartridges also use a lot of crude oil, with inkjet cartridges using around 3 ounces of oil per cartridge and laser cartridges using as much as 3 quarts. 


Then we have to consider the emissions produced in the manufacturing of ink and toner cartridges, and the numbers aren’t pretty. For every cartridge of toner, around 4.8kg of carbon dioxide finds its way into the atmosphere, while the toner itself requires greenhouse gas emissions at a rate of 16:1, meaning one tonne of toner produces 16 tonnes of GHGs. The average American home produces around 7.5 tons of CO2 a year, but a relatively successful ink cartridge factory can account for around 640 tonnes of CO2 in just a month. 


Minimizing the Environmental Impact of Ink Cartridges


These numbers and facts have the potential to feel fairly overwhelming, especially with governments doing very little to put limits on manufacturing and usage practices. However, there are some eco-friendly printing practices you can put into effect to do your part in minimizing the negative impacts of running your business.


One of the most important things that we’ve touched on is the proper recycling of ink cartridges. There’s literally no reason not to do this, and to help even more you could also try to source remanufactured cartridges for your workplace when you can.


Some of the most impactful things you can do in reality are literal printing practices, such as minimizing print space, creating double-sided printouts, and simply being mindful of whether you really need to print the documents you’re about to bring into the physical realm. You can also purchase an eco-friendly printer to reduce your energy usage, however, this will do little to stem the impact from the cartridges themselves. 

For more interesting and useful pieces on printing, visit our website and blog today!

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