When it comes to waste, volume matters more than size. Even small items casually disposed of can make a significant contribution to landfills, if enough people are throwing out those items simultaneously.
That is the situation with inkjet and laser cartridges, which we all depend on to make our home printers function. According to current estimates, the planet’s citizens use nearly two billion ink and toner cartridges each year, and most will end up being discarded despite their potential for reuse .
In the United States alone, about 500 million printer cartridges are purchased each year, and an estimated 350,000 will end up occupying precious landfill space .
These are sad numbers, because they could conceivably be reduced to zero. Ink and toner cartridges for inkjet and laser printers are easily recyclable, and when you know where to take them you can actually make money for your trouble. This makes recycling your old printer and toner cartridges good for both the environment and your wallet.
Benefits of recycling ink cartridges
If you took all the printer cartridges in use each year and lined them up end to end, you could circle the globe five-and-a-half times at the equator .
Needless to say, this amount of material abandoned as if it were unusable junk can soak up a lot of space in landfills. Throwing cartridges in the trash is not environmentally-friendly, since the plastic adds to the waste stream and landfills, and misses out on an excellent opportunity to reuse the plastic again.
This is especially true with discarded laser printer cartridges, which contain (on average) 2.5 pounds of plastic and one pound of metal . Ink cartridges only weigh about an ounce each, but there are many more of them and they still manufactured from plastics that can take a few centuries to fully biodegrade (if they ever do).
In fact, printer cartridges can be recycled up to six times before they can no longer be reused. By recovering and recycling cartridges, millions of cubic feet of waste can be diverted from landfills, which saves millions of dollars in landfill management costs.
Another problem with printer cartridges is that the ink and other ingredients they use often include toxic elements—specifically, volatile organic solvents—that are bad for the environment and could eventually contaminate water supplies should they be disposed of in leaky landfills .
Still another issue is fuel consumption.
How to recycle ink cartridges?
There are a number of companies—and savvy individuals—who are ready, willing and able to recycle or reuse your expended ink or toner cartridges. Some recyclers will accept cartridges in person, while others request shipments through the mail.
In order to prepare cartridges for shipping or transport, you should do the following :
- Inkjet cartridges
Empty ink cartridges set for recycling can be stored in plastic zip-lock-style bags, wrapped in newspaper or put back in their original boxes. If they are to be shipped via FedEx, UPS or the post office, they should be wrapped well in newspaper before being put in the shipping container, even if you place them in plastic bags or their original packaging first.
- Laser cartridges
Expended laser cartridges can be shipped or stored in their original boxes.
If the boxes aren’t available, triple wrapping them in newspaper is an acceptable alternative. Laser cartridges are heavy (average weight 2.5-3.5 lbs. each), and you should keep that in mind when you are selecting a shipping container.
To prevent them from bouncing around during shipment, they should be packed tightly and surrounded by some kind of packing material (bubble wrap, etc.).
What types of cartridges can be recycled?
The good news is that no matter what kind of ink or toner cartridges you have, or how old they might be, someone will take them and be willing to pay you for the privilege.
Some recyclers will only accept certain brands or types, meaning you might have to separate expended inkjet and laser cartridges, or carry or send your old Canon, Epson, Dell, IBM or HP cartridges to different locations.
But with some quick research online, or a few phone calls, you should have little difficulty finding recyclers who will accept whatever you have to send them.
Where to sell your empty ink cartridges?
Because they can be refilled, reused, repurposed and refurbished so easily, empty ink and toner cartridges have real value, and a lot of people know it.
Here are some sources you can use to get cash back for your old printer cartridges:
The demand for empty ink cartridges is surprisingly high, and if you choose to list them on eBay you will have interested buyers.
Instead of trying to guess the market, you might want to leave your listings open for bidding, with an established minimum price of your choosing (based on what others are getting for similar products). With empty ink cartridges in particular, you should try to collect and sell them in lots of maybe 10 or more, since most bidders won’t bother with sellers who list these small items individually.
Laser cartridges last longer than ink cartridges, and that makes them more valuable by a considerable margin.
You’ll likely average less than five dollars each when you sell expended inkjet cartridges, but you might get up to $20 each (or even more) for laser cartridges that are lightly used and in good condition.
To achieve the best results, your eBay listing should be as detailed as possible, including information about the manufacturer, model and color, and whether your cartridges have ever been refilled (by you or anyone else). If they have not been refilled you can list them as “virgin,” which will increase buyer enthusiasm substantially .
Office supply stores
There are at least five large retail chains—Walmart, Best Buy, Staples, OfficeMax and Office Depot—that are authorized to collect and recycle used ink or toner cartridges (although not always both) produced by major manufacturers .
In return for your used cartridges, you’ll receive store credits of approximately $2 each (approximately), which can be cashed in on other merchandise .
Some stores have a limit to how much credit can be given per person each month (such as a limit of 10 cartridge credits per month at some stores), and others may require that you spend a certain amount of money at their business first, or you may have to enroll in their customer reward programs in order to be eligible for these financial benefits, but if you recycle cartridges frequently that may be in your best interest anyway.
Online buyback sites
Sites like Evolve Recycling, Recycle 4 Charity and Dazz Cycle pay fair market value for expended toner and/or ink cartridges, and for your convenience you can deliver them through the mail or by FedEx or UPS at a guaranteed profit.
Depending on the age and condition of your cartridges, these companies will likely pay you three or four dollars each for used ink cartridges, or $20 or more for used toner cartridges.
The prices they pay for specific items will all be listed on their websites, and they’ll send a prepaid shipping label to cover your shipping costs as soon as you let them know what you have—and of course, you’ll get your payment by check as soon as the products you ship arrive.
Make sure that you check each site before you ship off your cartridges to determine which ones each company will accept and which ones they won’t. These recycling companies will only pay for the ones that they accept, and some even charge penalty fees for those cartridges that they don’t accept.
Community recycling centers
The nonprofit environmental organization Earth911 maintains an extensive database that essentially lists all recycling facilities available in the United States, many of which will accept your old ink or toner cartridges and offer payments in return .
To gain access to the Earth911 database, you can do an online search or call their toll-free hotline at 1-800-CLEANUP.
Other recycling options
Printers are ubiquitous. Virtually everyone you know, and every other person in your neighborhood or community, has one or more of them.
Now that you know about profits available in cartridge recycling, you might want to consider starting a drive to collect used inkjet and laser cartridges from individuals and businesses in your area, with the proceeds of their eventual sale going to a local or national charity of your choosing.
As long as the cause you choose to support is a good one, most of the people you approach will likely be glad to contribute.
In fact, they’ll probably be happy to get rid of something they otherwise would have to throw away.
Refilling and recycling for fun and profit
In addition to their recyclability, almost all inkjet and laser cartridges can be refilled, and often several times before they are no longer suitable for that purpose.
If you choose to do this, easy-to-use refill kits are widely available, and some retailers (such as Walgreens and Costco) will actually do it for you if you bring your empty cartridges in and request that service .
While the process can be a bit messy if you aren’t careful, you will ultimately save a significant amount money on cartridges if you refill them and reuse them instead of repeatedly purchasing them new.
Naturally, this will delay your recycling for a while. But in the end you’ll still be able to recycle and do it for a profit, no matter how many times you’ve refilled your cartridges, and that could make the ‘refill first, recycle later’ path your best option for long-term financial advantage.