Printing Green: How to Recycle Your Ink Cartridges

Inkjet Cartridges

You may not give much thought to what happens to your ink-encrusted old print cartridges after the new ones come out of the foil wrapper, but tossing them away should be about the last thing you consider. Like paper, plastic, glass and all the other materials you load into your recycling bin every week, there’s a whole other life for print cartridges out the landfill. And even better, like soda cans or old cars, you might even be able to score some money for your good deed in the process. Here are three environmentally friendly options for your used print cartridges when their printing days are (seemingly) over.

Ink CartridgesGive Them Away

For most people, this option makes the most sense. Although other choices may prove more frugal, time-strapped consumers who just want to get their printers back in action will find plenty of easy options for ditching the old cartridge without trashing it. The easiest: just use the postage-paid envelope or shipping label that comes with the new cartridge. HP, Dell and many other major manufacturers already include these, and some companies, like Canon, allow you to print them for free online. If you would rather not have to deal with them locally, many office retailers also allow you to recycle cartridges for free. Staples and OfficeMax, for instance, both allow customers to walk in and drop off empty ink or toner cartridges for recycling – and they’ll give you a $3 store credit for each one, too.

Sell Them

If you’re wondering why some retailers are willing to bend over backward and ever offer you store credit for your “trash,” it’s not necessarily out of the goodness of their hearts. They’re making money on the deal, because used ink and toner cartridges are a commodity that many people (companies who fill them back up and use them again) will pay for. You can do the same, if you’re so inclined. Sites like TonerBuyer.com, FreeRecycling.com, Recharge.net and others will buy back your used ink cartridges for anywhere from a few cents to a few dollars apiece. Just keep in mind that it may not be worth your time to sell them back individually, so you may want to save up a batch or even get together with friends to send a load in. You can also test your luck on the open market by putting your empty cartridges up on eBay, where individuals may buy them to refill them for their own personal reuse.

Refill Ink CartridgesRefill Them

Giving away or selling ink cartridges may be the easiest way to dispatch with old cartridges, but if you still own the same printer and continue to use it, refilling your own cartridges makes the most sense economically. A kit to refill your existing cartridge several times most likely costs less than buying one new, factory-sealed model, so the savings can pile up after even one reuse. Many computer and office retailers now carry refills in stores, but you can also buy kits online at store like Mr. Inkjet, Inkfilling and TonerRefillKits.com.

Filling ink cartridges is usually as simple as using a syringe to suck ink from a few different vials and injecting it into different compartments of the cartridge. That said, it can get messy if you’re not careful, and some models are more complex than others. All good-quality kits usually alleviate these problems by including gloves and easy-to-follow instructions. Though you’ll be able to top off an old cartridge several times, keep in mind that the sensitive print head can eventually fail due to clogs, overheating and other issues from use, so new cartridges may be necessary from time to time.

Refilling the toner in a laser printer can get a little hairier. Since most printer manufacturers don’t want users tinkering with the cartridges (where they make a significant amount of their money selling replacements), getting the finely powdered toner inside can be a challenge. Most kits require you to drill or melt a hole in the cartridge for access. More complex cartridges also sometimes require a “waste hopper” to be emptied, and after several refills, users may have to replace components like the drum or rollers, which inevitably wear out with use. At this point, all but the most frugal will probably just choose to move on to a new cartridge and start again.

If this entire process sounds like more of a pain than it’s worth, consider having someone else do it for you. Some retailers, like Walgreens, will allow you to bring in an empty cartridge and have it refilled while you wait.

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