There was a time when plastic was hailed as the material of the future. Despite its increasingly negative reputation, that future may still come to pass. Plastic seems to take on an increasing amount of practical uses, and a slight modification of its contents or manufacturing process can give it an entirely new function.
Unlike organic materials such as timber, plastics do not typically undergo a process of biodegradation. While many types are recyclable, many are not. Most plastics spend the end of their lifecycle in landfill. Once there, they can remain for hundreds of years. Those that do break down only end up forming smaller and smaller pieces, and the toxic chemicals that were used in their production end up in the environment. Alternatively, if plastics find their way into the ocean, increased movement and sun exposure will break the material into smaller pieces. These pieces become toxic “food” for marine wildlife across the food chain.
The A+D industry is particularly bad, with projects often relying on non-biodegradable or toxic materials for completion. The production of these materials forms part of the 23 percent of gas emissions that the A+D industry contributes to the Australian atmosphere. Given that a third of Australia’s solid waste is created by the construction industry and some portion of that is potentially reusable, there is significant room for improvement.
Printing technologies and the plastics they comprise might make up a small percentage of the non-biodegradable materials utilised within A+D, but their role in contributing to landfill and climate change globally cannot be ignored.
The information technology leaders at HP have taken note of this. Since 2003, the company has worked actively with Cartridges for Planet Ark (C4PA) and Close the Loop, seeking to shift the mindset of production and consumption from a “take, make, dispose” attitude to one of “make, use, return”. This is all part of an effort to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of their product portfolio by 25 percent of 2010 levels by 2020.
Returning HP ink and toner cartridges to one of HP’s partners begins a multiphase recycling process in which nothing goes to waste. Materials are separated and either used as raw material for new Original HP ink and toner cartridges, or salvaged and turned into everyday objects such as rulers, pens and even low-CO2 asphalt. At the end of their second lives, those same cartridges, pens and rulers can be dropped off with an HP partner to be recycled yet again.
Earlier this year, HP Australia reached the significant milestone of having recycled 10 million HP print cartridges with C4PA. At this point, they had recycled over 682 million cartridges worldwide.
HP's efforts have not been limited to the area of recycling and reuse. The company is additionally seeking to reduce the packaging necessary for their printers and supplies, and to utilise higher percentages of recycled content within packaging.
HP has also reduced the environmental impact of its printer products’ production. For instance, the Indigo 20000 Digital Press is made as a carbon-neutral product via the company’s participation in carbon offsetting programs. These include reforestation measures and HP’s social investment in various forms of renewable energy, such as solar and biofuel.
These initiatives represent just a portion of HP’s ongoing commitment to reducing its environmental impact and to setting a standard for the printing technology industry. By closing the loop and reducing initial consumption of materials, the resilience of plastic in all its forms might one day prove truly beneficial.