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Progress in the circular economy

Closed-loop processes that upcycle ink and toner printer cartridges and ocean-bound plastic bottles into new products are reducing plastic waste and creating sustainable impact for local communities.

An estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic flow into the ocean every year—on top of the 150 million metric tons already floating around, according to scientific studies by Ocean Conservancy. Eradicating this waste is one of the world’s most pressing challenges, and companies in every industry are implementing circular-economy processes that revive “end of life” materials for other purposes.

HP Inc. has pioneered circular models for more than two decades through efforts including HP Planet Partners, a print cartridge recycling program enabled by networks HP built around the world. So far, the program has recycled more than 875 million HP ink and toner cartridges and turned them into new supplies. The effort—which lets customers return spent supplies free of charge—spans 68 countries and territories.

Partners Sims Lifecycle Services, PDR, Butler-MacDonald, and Lavergne have contributed to HP’s advances in recycling, disassembly, shredding, and resin development. “We believe collaboration is essential to achieve the scale, innovation, and speed necessary to address the plastics impacting our oceans,” says Guillaume Gerardin, global head and general manager of print supplies at HP.

Now the tech giant is navigating uncharted waters. Four years ago, it started gathering and processing ocean-bound plastic waste in Haiti that was at risk of contributing to ocean waste. In October, HP expanded that work by opening a new facility and a $2 million washing line built to support local collectors under coordination of NGOs First Mile and Work. To date, they have diverted nearly 770 metric tons of plastic—the equivalent of more than 60 million bottles—and created more than 1,100 local income opportunities, while providing more than 150 children with quality education, food, and medical assistance. “The community impact is crucial to creating a system that can endure and deliver on the significant potential of this program as it scales,” says Ellen Jackowski, chief sustainability and social impact officer at HP. “We are sharing everything we’ve done to stand up a supply chain for ocean-bound plastics with other companies to drive greater impact across industries.”

HP’s 10-year goal, which the company has been working toward since 2016, is to recycle 1.2 million metric tons of hardware and printing supplies by 2025. At last count, the company was almost halfway there.

Today, more than 82% of HP ink cartridges and 100% of HP toner cartridges include recycled content. Development teams are designing recovered materials into other products like the HP Chromebook Elite c1030 Chromebook Enterprise, which has a top lid made of 75% recycled aluminum and a keyboard that includes 50% recycled plastic.  

HP’s focus on sustainable impact is tied to a growing portion of its new sales—$1.6 billion in 2019. The company is sharing best practices with NextWave Plastics, an open-source initiative, so its circular-economy work can be scaled and replicated elsewhere. “HP is working to set the industry standard for sustainability practices, and as a member of NextWave Plastics, is ensuring that the lessons they have learned are shared among other industry leaders to make an even greater impact,” says Dune Ives, CEO of Lonely Whale, the convening entity of NextWave. “HP’s creativity and commitment to their work in Haiti in the face of a global pandemic is making waves of positive change that simultaneously benefit local communities, the ocean and our future.”