Mural done with air-ink

How to Recycle your Ink Cartridges

I always try to steer my daughter in not printing unnecessary documents. Ink cartridges tend to be expensive and produce a lot of waste.

For a long time these cartridges would end up in the common household garbage bin and from there into the landfill. That’s disastrous. When not properly disposed of, it takes more than 400 years to break these materials down and only 12% is incinerated, making the potential for a plastic crisis a reality.

In one article I described a process where used ink cartridges are turned into a fancy, eco-friendly laptop stand. A fine example of recycling.

laptop stand from recycled ink cartridgesI have been asking myself a lot of questions. What materials go IN the cartridges to make them? How much of it, if any, is recycled? What happens if we don’t?

What goes into a standard ink cartridge?

1. Ink, of course, otherwise it wouldn’t be an ink cartridge.

What is printer ink made of?

The first ink known by mankind was made of natural components.

  • Vegetable and fruit juices
  • Blood of some species of shellfish
  • Secretions from octopi, cuttlefish, squid, and other cephalopods
  • Tannin from tree bark and nuts

In today’s industrialized world, ink recipes are quite different. There are 3 variables:

  • The company that produces it (HP, Epson, Canon)
  • The surface that the printing will be conducted upon
  • The printing method used

The materials to produce modern ink are :

  • carbon black & color pigments
  • dispersants ( a solvent containing polymers and surfactants )
  • resins ( formaldehyde or acrylics etc. )
  • defoamers and humectants
  • varnish base ( some sort of oil or distillate & organic or inorganic dyes )

In short, plenty of harmful chemicals go into the ink we use daily.

When the ink cartridge is empty, we need to dispose of it. Remember there will always be some ink left on the cartridge.

Amazon Dash Replenishment

AIR-INK : The world’s 1st ink made out of air pollution

for the full article on kick starter : 
AIR-INK: The world's first ink made out of air pollution

“By using 30 ml of AIR-INK, you can negate 45 minutes worth of pollution.”


AIR-INK is made out of air pollution particulate matter––namely the unburned carbon soot you see coming out of the exhaust pipe of cars, chimneys, generators, and more. 3 years further down the road, AIR-INK ( by Graviky Labs ) is preparing for the future and the ink will soon be available for ink cartridges too.

“What most of us don’t realize, is that empty printer cartridges require special disposal and should NOT be thrown away with our everyday garbage. Cartridges contain plastic, metals and if not correctly disposed of, cause environmental harm.”

2. Plastic

Everyone who has ever used or touched an ink cartridge knows how much plastic it contains. Plastic is the most visual and heaviest part of the cartridge.

The plastics used in printer cartridges are made of an engineering grade polymer that have a very slow decomposing rate ranging between 450 to 1000 years depending on the cartridge type. That’s atrocious.

In order to avoid pollution from plastic, this is what ALL of us should do before we buy & dispose.

What can you do?

Make sure your empty ink cartridge gets recycled. Awareness and choice starts when buying a printer. It’s essential you look into the recycling program of the printer and ink cartridge manufacturer ( which often are the same ) before making a purchase decision.

Recycle in-store

Check if the retailer has a free drop-off program for the printer & cartridge you are about to buy. The store should have drop off location areas near where the toner is sold. While you won’t get cash or credit for turning in your empty toner products, you are doing your part to help the planet and reduce waste in our landfills and waterways.

Mail in your empties

Certain brands provide postage-paid mailing materials for you to put your empty toner cartridges in to send at your convenience. Large businesses with a pallet’s of empty cartridge to be recycled can call and request a pallet pickup.

True Recycling vs Re-Manufacturing

Don’t take apples for pears ! HP® stands by its products, using pieces of plastic from old ink and toner cartridges as some of the plastic in the new ones. This is true recycling. None of the cartridges returned or recycled to HP® through consumers ever go to a landfill. They get sorted, shredded, and separated. Trace amounts of ink or filler components are disposed of sustainably. Small bits of metal and other plastics get turned into items other than just printing goods. The cartridges you recycle become part of trays, the soles of shoes, and other things we buy and use every day.

Brands with the Best Recycling Program


HP Office Jet 5260

HP runs the toner recycling program, part of the HP Planet Partners Initiative. Anyone who buys HP or Samsung-branded toner products has an easy way to be a part of positive change. The best part? It’s free!

HP® has mastered the art of the “closed loop.” According to our stats, more than 80% of our ink cartridges and 100% of HP LaserJet toner cartridges are made with recycled plastic from their own products. In addition to using empty ink products when making new ones, we use more than half a million pounds of ocean-bound plastic in the process, too.


Brother's Bestselling Printer

Brother’s product stewardship management strategy ensures it takes environmental responsibility of its end-of-life consumables and machine disposal.

Brother is a full funding partner of the ‘Cartridges 4 Planet Ark‘ recycling program. This Australia wide program collects and returns cartridges for recycling with a zero waste to landfill guarantee. With over 4,000 ‘Cartridges 4 Planet Ark’ cartridge collection boxes located across Australia, it’s both easy and free to recycle your used cartridges.

Since the program’s inception in 2003, 56,000,000 cartridges have been collected! Unfortunately that is still merely a fraction of the total of cartridges being used.

The following companies actively support Close the Loop collection programs, either as part of Cartridges 4 Planet Ark, or through customised collection programs.

Parners of the Cartridges 4 Planet Ark

In Conclusion

Be a smart, intelligent and eco-friendly consumer. Think twice before you buy. Think even more before you discard your printer and printer cartridge. The world has a growing number of sustainable solutions on offer and they are FREE. No more excuses for your ink cartridge to end up where it DOES NOT belong: in the landfill !

4 thoughts on “How to Recycle your Ink Cartridges”

  1. Wow this information is awesome. I never knew you could do this with ink cartridges. Sending them back is a great idea.the thought they can take between 450-1,000 years to break down is just awful. I personally don’t have a printer but my husband does. I’m going to show him this article to see if it’s possible to do something with the cartridges. I know he will be interested in reading. Thank you very much for writing this.

    • Hi Lisa, thanks for reading my article. Please share. The idea so so many cartridges still ending up with garbage every day turns my stomach over. Till recently ( when I was researching for the other article I mention ) I had no idea either.

  2. Hello Karin, the world is groebg in ideas and all of a sudden many of our old stuff can’t be thrown away because they can be recycled and that is very good indeed. I have never seen where an ink cartridges can be recycled and seeing it now makes me very happy 

    • Hi Justin,

      I believe recycling , reusing is our today  and our future. It can be done and should be done. If the world continues thinking we have a choice, then they’re wrong.


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