Disposing of inkjet printer cartridges

Recycle inkjet printer cartridges - why and where?

An overview of regulations and options for returning empty printer cartridges.

Did you know that Germans are world champions in recycling? Whether it's organic waste, plastic, batteries, waste paper, or glass, we separate out almost everything and find a way to get it all recycled. In light of this, it seems all the more surprising when we realise that we still dispose of almost 90% of empty printer cartridges with other household waste.

Is waste disposal a matter of personal choice? Absolutely not!

Many things have already become routine such as heading to the paper recycling container or returning bottles to the store. For some reason, disposing of ink cartridges hasn't become part of the routine, even though it, too, is regulated by law. And this law not only makes manufacturers and sellers of printers and cartridges responsible for recycling, but also you, the private user! The focus is on the idea of product responsibility.

The Closed Cycle Waste Management Act applies to

everyone. This key law has been in effect since 1 June 2012 and was created to encourage more efficient use of our natural resources and thus improve environmental and climate protection in the long term.

For the recycling of empty printer cartridges, this means that better disposal options have been created in recent years. And they are indeed obligatory for everyone: "Those who produce or are in possession of waste are obligated to recycle it. The recycling of waste takes precedence over its disposal. (...)" So anyone who simply throws ink cartridges into household waste is, strictly speaking, committing a crime.

Always try to recycle before simply throwing away: even when it comes to trash, there's a hierarchy!

The best way for us to act in an environmentally friendly way is to avoid producing waste in the first place. The law's "waste hierarchy" has five stages: waste prevention is at the top, followed by "(...) 2. Preparation for re-use, 3. Recycling, 4. Other recovery, in particular energy recovery and backfilling, 5. Disposal (...)".

So just print less? Yes and no: As far as the domestic ink jet printer is concerned, an occasional printout can perhaps be avoided. At the same time, however, users know that printers need to be used regularly so that the ink doesn't dry out. So recycling is the order of the day!

Recycling is easy: you just have to start doing it!

Recycling is what is referred to as "material recovery", whereas "energy recovery" simply refers to the incineration of waste, as is usually the case in landfills.

When I decide to return my empty ink cartridges for recycling, there are currently a nice range of options that are not only environmentally friendly, but also uncomplicated.

Larger companies have it particularly easy because they benefit from a free service: your printer manufacturer is legally obligated to collect certain quantities of empties free of charge in order to recycle them. Private users, on the other hand, have several options, which we will briefly explain below:

  • Return to the manufacturer
  • Return via Deutsche Post DHL
  • Return to the seller
  • Sending to disposal sites for payment
  • The use of municipal recycling centres

Manufacturer service: If you recycle, you don't even have to pay the postage.

All major manufacturers now have their own recycling programmes, which they inform customers about in detail. The return processes are also becoming increasingly customer-friendly: the packaging of the original cartridges often contains a return slip with which the empty printer cartridge can be returned postage paid. Other manufacturers offer the option to order the return material via their website. If this isn't the case, then the customer must pay in advance and get back the postage later.

Selling empties: Not every cartridge is worth money!

Some specialist waste management companies even pay for used cartridges, starting at around 10 cents per piece. But be careful, not all cartridges qualify: check their websites to see whether your own empties will even be accepted. Often, they wil only buy back undamaged original cartridges of certain manufacturers and models.

Recycling centre and electrical market: discard printer cartridges locally.

If you don't mind taking a trip to the nearest recycling centre, you can also get rid of your old printer cartridges there, free of charge. The municipal centres accept any brand of cartridge. By the way: you'll usually find cartons in which the empties are collected and later fed into the recycling cycle, even in large electronics stores!

Since July, things have been getting serious, which is great for all those who already recycle.

Since 24 July 2016, however, things have become more serious for retailers. From this date, a new Electrical Equipment Act requires the return of all printer cartridges that have a chip or are dependent on electricity. The reason: They are considered to be electronic waste equipment that must be taken back. This regulation applies to all online traders and stationary shops with a storage and shipping area of at least 400 m².

It's a positive signal for everyone; for the consumer this means that environmentally friendly disposal could soon be as self-evident as brushing your teeth: you simply need to get on with it.