How Does Not Recycling Ink Cartridges Affect the Earth?

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Each ink jet printer cartridge that you don't recycle significantly increases your use of limited resources and your production of waste that doesn't decompose. Ink cartridges are made of substances that consume a lot of energy and raw materials to produce, and that break down slowly in landfills. While a single ink cartridge affects the earth only slightly, if you add up all the ink cartridges you use in your lifetime, recycling them makes a substantial contribution to a cleaner earth.

Natural Resources

When you don't recycle an ink cartridge, the manufacturer buys new materials instead of using the materials from the old cartridge. Each cartridge contains plastic and metals that are made from natural resources in limited supply. Plastic is produced from oil, while the metals, like copper and aluminum, are mined and refined. When the manufacturer produces a new cartridge from new materials, more natural resources have to be extracted from the earth. For each 100,000 cartridges made from new materials instead of recycled cartridges, manufacturers use about 5 more tons of aluminum, 40 more tons of plastic and 250,000 more gallons of oil.


When you throw an ink cartridge into your trash it usually ends up in a landfill or in an incinerator. The plastic in ink cartridges decays very slowly and can take up to 1,000 years to break down. The ink left in the cartridge leaks out and pollutes the immediate surroundings. North Americans use about 400 million cartridges every year. If the cartridge is incinerated instead of being dumped in a landfill, the burned plastic produces air pollution and contributes to smog. The metals leave a residue that has to be stored in landfills in any case.

Greenhouse Gases

Not recycling ink cartridges adds to global warming. When a manufacturer reuses a recycled cartridge, he doesn't have to produce it from raw materials. His manufacturing process is shorter and produces fewer greenhouse gases. In an HP ink jet cartridge recycling center at Smyrna, Tennessee, the company estimates that it has reprocessed 100 million pounds of plastic between 2007 and 2012 -- about 29 million pounds of that in 2011 alone. HP believes that some of the plastic has been through the cycle nine or ten times. This replaces plastic that otherwise would have to be refined from petroleum and shipped from the source.


The more energy we use, the more it affects the earth. We have to produce and burn more oil, build additional power plants or install wind turbines and solar panels. When you don't recycle an ink cartridge, the manufacture of a new one uses up to 80 percent more energy than using a recycled cartridge. Generating the additional energy harms the environment because even non-fossil-fuel power generators like wind turbines use natural resources, such as mined metals, and have to be shipped to site.


About the Author

Bert Markgraf is a freelance writer with a strong science and engineering background. He has written for scientific publications such as the HVDC Newsletter and the Energy and Automation Journal. Online he has written extensively on science-related topics in math, physics, chemistry and biology and has been published on sites such as Digital Landing and He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from McGill University.

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