The convenience that modern printing brings to us is offset by the need to dispose or recycle spent printer toner and ink cartridges in a way has the lowest impact on our environment.
The choices we have for recycling depend very much on the ease and cost of refilling and servicing used cartridges, so they print reliably without inconveniencing businesses and individuals.
Where it is not economic to reuse a cartridge there are ways to recycle the materials rather than condemning a cartridge to landfill.
Recycling and Disposal Options
A cartridge may be an original, refilled, re-manufactured or a compatible. The type of cartridge often determines whether it can be recycled. This is probably best explained with a table.
||Can be Refilled*1
||Can be Remanufactued*2
||Can be recycled*3
1 Refilling is the process of adding more toner powder or liquid ink. Often the cartridge’s chip is not reset leading to printer low toner/ink messages. Sometimes the printer may not work with a refilled cartridge. Refilling should only be attempted once as the cartridge is not designed to last more than one use. Unreliable results should be expected.
2 Remanufacturing is the process of taking a cartridge and replacing any moving parts and replacing the chip. It is then refilled so the unit effectively becomes like new. Normally only carried out to the original cartridges.
3 Recycled by being broken down is where a cartridge is broken to remove ink and toner and then washed to clean the plastic. The plastic is shredded and the ink and toner reused in a number of materials from road surfaces to composites. It is an expensive option and I have yet to find a free service. It is also highly regulated so you should expect to be given paperwork to prove the waste came from you and was taken by the company doing the disposal.
Most towns and cities contain a number of retail outlets that specialise in providing a refilling service. Please see your local telephone directory or search Google(tm) on ‘toner cartridge refilling’. Please be aware that ink and toner cartridges are designed for one use and the results may not be reliable. In addition, the chip that many cartridges contain ideally needs to be reset or replaced to avoid low ink or toner messages on your printer.
If you have an original for recycling it is often easy to find a business online that will receive your spent cartridge. They typically provide you with a post free label to send the unit to them. Occasionally they may pay you a few pounds for the unit. They will sell on in bulk to companies that rebuild/service the units and refill them so they are almost as good as new.
If you are searching for a cartridge to buy, buying remanufactured units help support the recycling industry by creating a market for recycled products. However, not all units have a market for remanufacturing as they may be too costly to service and fill. It may be much cheaper to produce them from new in a compatible format.
These are new cartridges that are similar to the originals and are compatible with the printer. They are much cheaper than the originals as printer manufacturers earn a huge premium on consumables, far more than the cost of manufacturing. However, recycling options are more limited with breaking down often the only option.
In terms of performance, compatibles are often a good choice in place of the original or remanufactured cartridges as they are a new manufactured unit with the same capacity as the original. Printing quality is just as good, and tends to be used with smaller printers such as inkjets and colour lasers. Very often there is not a remanufactured cartridge option for these printers.
Where to Take your Empties
In summary, you have the following choices.
A. Originals can be refilled or sent to a company for rebuild. You can get a small payment for each unit.
B. Anything else can be broken down at a cost or in the last resort, sent for landfill.
Empty Cartridge opperates a free collection scheme just for ink cartridges and will pay you a small amount. You can opt to donate this to charity. They are at https://www.emptycartridge.co.uk/ This is one example from a few found from a google search.
Reduce Reuse Recycle have a good page here with several links. http://www.reducereuserecycle.co.uk/where_can_I_recycle/printer_and_toner_cartridges.php
Your local, large supermarket will often have a recycle bin for cartridges. This is a very a green way of recycling as there are no additional road miles by you and the supermarkets have contracts setup to recycle the cartridge or break up the cartridge for materials reclaim.
For small quantities try your local council run depot. Most councils have a disposal contract whereby toners and inks are broken down for recycling. Others just landfill such items. You will find details for your local council online or by ringing your local Environmental services helpline.
Currently, we do not accept empties due to the cost of disposal and getting them to us. This may change in the future if we are able to find a company that can take your waste at a reasonable cost. But for ones and twos, sending them to us is not economical nor green in terms of road miles.
Updated 19th July 2021.