Properly Recycling Ink and Toner

by | Oct 13, 2021 | Environmental Issues Explained

As an electronic recycler, there are a few things that are very difficult to recycle responsibly. Recycling ink and toner is notoriously a challenge—especially non-OEM (non-original equipment manufacturer or generic brands) products. Producer Responsibility Laws are in place that require certain manufacturers of certain products to take on the responsibility of recycling products at end-of-life. These poorly enforced laws vary from state to state. HP, Dell, and some other brand-name makers of ink/toner fulfill this requirement by placing a mailing label in the box the product comes in. Consumers can use this mailing label to mail the empty cartridge back to the producer for recycling at no cost. Most consumers don’t realize this mailing label is in the box, and it gets thrown away. Non-OEM producers often operate out of the US and do not adhere to Producer Responsibility Laws. There is typically little to no non-OEM recycling. Brand-name ink and toner prices are astronomical, so most consumers opt for the less expensive non-OEM products, not realizing the effect on the environment. 

The Environmental Impact of Ink and Toner

The most obvious environmental impact of ink and toner is the plastic cartridge. Plastic is infamous for its adverse effects on the environment. The truth is the ink and toner themselves are mostly plastic too. Toner is a fine powder, whereas ink is liquid. Printer ink consists of a colorant, typically carbon and polymer (plastic), and other additives, such as solvents and metals. Toner is mainly ground-up plastic with a few added ingredients, such as polypropylene. Both ink and toner are oil-based because they use plastics, and both use up non-renewable metals. The inclusion of these metals causes a health concern. Research has shown damage to the lungs in people who have sustained contact with both ink and toner.   

The Environmental Impact of Ink and Toner.

The Difficulty Recycling Ink and Toner

When it comes to recycling ink/toner, there are several roadblocks:

  1. Manufacturers will only take back their ink and toner.
  2. There are little to no non-OEM recycling takebacks.
  3. The resale of unopened cartridges is spotty.

Many companies take only specific brands and types, and virtually no reseller will take non-OEM products. ACE Recycling works with several buyers for OEM (typically unopened) ink/toner. However, they want only a fraction of what we get. This solution was so ineffective that we just started stockpiling it to keep it from the landfill.  

Over the past year, ACE Recycling has been scouring the US for a responsible recycler that would take both OEM and non-OEM printer ink and toner and empty cartridges.  It was like trying to find a unicorn.  However, we are pleased to say we found one. In the process, we connected with a company (Planet Green) that intends to take this issue to the EPA with input from ACE Recycling.  

Properly Recycling Ink and Toner

We want to pass on some things we have learned over the year about ink and toner. More importantly, we would like to allow our customers more control over their environmental impact.  

1st – Keep the mailing label that comes in the box with OEM ink/toner. Keep the box, too! Place your empty cartridge in the original box, tape it up, place the label on it and mail it back to the manufacturer for proper disposal. Check a non-OEM box for a return shipping label! There are few non-OEM producers that you can send back empties to for recycling.

2nd – We found a company that will take any brand of ink/toner, empty or unopened, and recycles it properly!! You can print a mailing label right from the Coast to Coast Computer Products website and mail it to them for recycling at no cost. Coast to Coast also sells non-OEM printer ink and toner. We recommend them for purchasing ink and toner as a thank you for helping recycle the cartridges other companies produce.  

3rd – If you have unopened ink/toner, several companies may buy it. Please keep in mind that these companies want particular and often changing types of ink and toner. If you have empty INKJET cartridges, Planet Green will buy them from you. Email them at empties@pginkjets.com. Most of these companies will pay for shipping.  

How ACE Recycling Handles Ink and Toner

ACE Recycling uses a combination of these solutions to properly handle the ink and toner that comes to us through pick-ups and drop-offs. We look for mailing labels in manufacturer boxes and mail cartridges out if we find one. If no return label is present we print a label from the Coast to Coast website and mail it to them. We recently sent them several pallets containing OEM, non-OEM, opened, used, and unopened ink and toner.

While ACE Recycling will continue to do this with any ink or toner we receive, we wanted to inform our customers that you can manage this independently.  

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