HP: cleaning up IT’s dirty little secret

"It goes to America today for the refining stage but the plan is that once the volumes build up and we know what we're doing in terms of recycling and refinement then a refinement plant will be opened in each region," he claims.

The very act of recycling cartridges also throws up its own legal questions. "We can incentivise consumers to return the cartridges on a temporary basis in some countries," explains Cristina Mannucci Benincasa, environmental marketing manager for Imaging and Printing at HP in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA). "Usually this is in the range of a couple of Euros. It helps the customers become more conscious that these services exist and it's not possible in every country."

"One of the big problems we have is around anti-competition law, because if we start to say we'll offer you money back for cartridges, we then start to be seen to restrict companies that refill them," adds Zago.

Joanna Pupkowska, programme manager of imaging and hardcopy consumables at analyst IDC, also noted that HP's decision to recycle rather than refill made sure cartridges were less likely to end up with refillers.

"HP is tapping into general worldwide trends when it comes to environmental protection. On the other hand, the step that HP has taken to be green and eco friendly in its manufacturing and recycling processes helps them protect against the after market, meaning the regeneration of cartridges," she proposed.

"So the supply of empties is getting reduced on the market and it's quite an efficient measure to reduce the competition from regenerators."

However, Pupkowska believes that both competing systems refilling or recycling have a similar environmental impact. "Maybe with some succession that if empties collected by other vendors do not qualify for remanufacturing after a selection process they could end up as landfill," she added.

With all the talk of recycling versus remanufacturing, it's a surprise that HP hasn't tried both options itself. "We have looked at refilling or remanufacturing and I don't know how much you know about those processes but there are differences and I think so far we cannot achieve the quality that our customers want by refilling/remanufacturing," Zago said.

"It's not something we're not going to do going forward but we will look at it again in the future."

"I think that OEMs by the nature of their business model want to go down the recycling route rather than a refilling/remanufacturing route. It's the whole razorblades business model," concludes Lyra's Mayhew.

"I think only time will tell, because if you look at the opposite side of the coin and what re-manufacturers are doing to communicate both their value and green credentials, then you'll hear some very strong arguments that are directly opposed to where the OEMs sit. Whether those two cultures and they almost are cultures will ever come together is an open question right now."