HP: cleaning up IT’s dirty little secret

Dean Miller, programme lead for worldwide inkjet supplies recycling at HP, says innovation hasn't always come easily. "There was no off-the-shelf equipment available and there was no catalogue for this equipment. And so we had to look to innovation from a number of areas," Miller says.

"HP began taking back inkjet cartridges in 1997 and the manager I work for today actually provided a washing machine that was used for the first rinsing of recycled plastics. And the envelope removal equipment that we are using in North America was developed out of designs from the agriculture industries. We're pulling off envelopes using a similar method to the way corn is shucked in automated corn-processing plants. The sorting in the US also uses an X-ray system that came from the food industry."

Understandably, HP's recycling attempts took a slow but steady path towards the current plants based around the world.

Miller says it took four years for the development of the reclaimed PET plastic to reach a stage where in 2004 it could be integrated into the first product. However, that wasn't back into an inkjet cartridge. "The first product was a small internal part on an HP scanner. It wasn't until 2005 we got the first cartridge qualified using the recycled PET material," he reveals. Today's products have come a long way by comparison. "We're not just taking the plastic and reusing it and seeing the properties diminish over time," Miller adds. "Each time we create a new batch of material we bring the properties back up to the original state. We've done studies up to seven iterations and have seen no degradation whatsoever."