Recycling plastic is good. It’s better than letting letting it pollute our air, water, land, wildlife, and scenery, but is it worth it? I’ll have a lot more to say on this in upcoming blogs (Reducing Plastics #3 and Preventing Plastics #4). But for now, I’m wrestling with the question of how much recycling is worth my time? The question popped up as I wondered what to do with empty printer cartridges that had accumulated in our basement,

With Covid-19 prompting more people to work at home many of us need supplies for a home office. Jim and I have had home offices for at least a decade. Each of us has a printer. Thus, we’ve accumulated quite a few empty plastic cartridges – 70 to be exact. They were taking up storage space, but more importantly we wanted to be good environmental stewards. I did some research (so you won’t have to) and this is what I found.

  • Are printer cartridges refillable? Yes, sort of – for a limited number of times. You have to buy some equipment, ink, and be very careful.  Click here for a mixed review.
  • Are printer cartridges recyclable? Yes. Office Depot takes cartridges as long as they are one of the brands they sell. 23 of mine qualified. Staples accepts all brands. I took the remaining 47 to Staples. Each store has a small rewards program which gives you a $2 credit for each cartridge (up to 10 cartridges a month).
  • Are they really recycled or are they just sent to a landfill or overseas? After many phone calls and emails I was not able to get a definitive answer from Office Depot. Staples sends their cartridges to Clover Environmental Solutions which reuses or remanufactures them. I’d go with Staples.
  • Is it worth the trouble? Yes, it was easy to drop the cartridges off at a local store. Although I would save more money by taking in a batch of 10 for the next 7 months and buying something with my $20 reward, I decided it wasn’t worth the hassle of planning my shopping around this limit. I gave them all I had at once.
  • Another solution: Copy less. Paper copies used to be the standard way of communicating information. Since much more can be stored digitally now, we don’t need paper copies as much. There’s something satisfying about having a piece of paper to highlight, make notes on, and crumble up and throw if you’re upset. Besides, paper is recyclable. BUT, think of all the information that can fit in even a tiny mobile phone. There’s got to be a balance.

Are other recycling tasks worth it?
Maybe you don’t have a home office or a ton of printer cartridges. So what recycling items are worth the effort?
1. Curbside municipal recycling is easy and worth it. Most cities collect metal, glass, paper, and plastic bottles. Metal, glass, and paper are pretty economically recycled, Plastic is a harder sell.
2. Single use plastics (especially #5s) are becoming the albatross of our day. Very few places really recycle them. BUT, they’re so convenient and it’s hard to get groceries without plastic packaging. My next blog post will be about reducing single use plastics.
3. Furniture, tools, food, toys, etc. Sure, share them with friends or give them away. Stay tuned for Beyond Plastic Recycling #5.

Plastic Challenge #2: Your challenge for the next 2 weeks is to watch Plastic Wars, a PBS, Frontline documentary. It’s free. It’s 53 minutes. It’s worth your time. It will prepare you for Plastics #3.
Bonus Challenge for those who are willing: For the next 2 weeks count and list the things you buy (especially at the grocery) that cannot be reused or easily recycled.