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Behind the Scenes of HP’s Tennessee Recycling Operations

During its Innovation for Sustainable Impact Summit, HP outlined its agenda for achieving its 2025 recycling goal, as well as some of the challenges it faces.

HP is on a mission to achieve 30 percent recycled content in its products by 2025 and recycle 1.2 million tonnes of hardware and supplies—five times more than its previous rate. The company stressed its commitment to “sustainable impact” during a behind-the-scenes tour of its La Vergne, Tenn.-based recycling facilities for hardware and supplies.

During an October 24 Innovation for Sustainable Impact Summit in Nashville, Tenn., HP outlined its agenda for achieving its ambitious goal, as well as some of the challenges it faces.

“We set a new goal in June to use 30 percent post-consumer recycled plastic by 2025,” said Ellen Jackowski, HP’s global head of sustainability strategy and innovation, during the event. “This is a big, bold goal. We’re not exactly sure how we’re going to get there yet. Today, we are at 7 percent. So, we have quite a lot of work to do.”

Jackowski explained that in order to reach its 2025 target, HP will continue its work with key suppliers, like Sims Recycling Solutions (SRS), to collect recycled plastic and use it in its products.

HP has partnered with plastics compounder The La Vergne Group in Montreal and SRS to develop a closed loop solution for recycling printers, copiers and scanners. Historically, these devices have been difficult to recycle because they contain high percentages of flammable and non-flammable acrylonitrile butadiene styrene and polystyrene plastic. SRS has implemented advanced recycling technology to separate these plastics, which allows HP to reuse the materials in new products.

In another recycling facility, HP recycles its post-consumer ink and toner cartridges as part of its Planet Partners program. Shelley Zimmer, HP’s Americas program manager of sustainable impact, explained that the company uses more than one full truckload of recycled material every day to make its plastic ink cartridges. She added that more than 830 million cartridges have been recycled by HP and its customers since the Planet Partners program began 28 years ago. Through 2018, the HP Planet Partners program has manufactured more than 4.2 billion HP ink and toner cartridges using more than a cumulative 107,000 tonnes of recycled plastic, added Zimmer.

Additionally, HP is sourcing polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic bottles from Haiti, where the ocean plastics pollution crisis has worsened. This, according to Jackowski, is a location where HP has switched it procurement strategy and reinvented the supply chain to tackle the problem.

“We decided to switch some of our sourcing of the PET bottle plastic, and we started hiring a group of informal collectors out of Haiti to collect those PET bottles and use them in our process,” explained Jackowski. “This has created opportunities for new jobs and is creating a market for what was recently seen as waste as now a valuable material that a company like HP is willing to pay for; it’s a job and potential for the future.”

In Haiti, HP has hired local men and women to collect black plastic and other items with less value and has partnered with a recycler there to sort and shred the materials. Additionally, the company invested $2 million in a plastic washing line in Haiti to expand its ocean-bound plastic supply chain.

Jackowski noted that via this partnership, more than 35 million bottles of ocean-bound PET plastic have been upcycled into HP ink cartridges. Earlier this year, HP also announced the world’s first notebook, the HP Elite Dragonfly, made from recycled ocean-bound plastic.

However, Jackowski pointed out, one of the major challenges to overcome is the global need for more recycling infrastructure. Because of this, HP can’t get enough recycled plastic back from consumers to make new products.

“We need to work to get better information to our customers to incentivize them to return their cartridges so we can recycle them,” she stressed. “There is not enough recycling infrastructure to generate the volumes of plastic that companies like HP are making.”

She also noted that product innovation and using plastic-alternative materials is another challenge that goes back to functionality. She added that customer preference also plays a role in what materials are used, as many consumers want white, sleeker looking appliances and printers that align with their home and office décor.  

The HP Tango Terra

During the event, HP unveiled its first printing system certified as carbon neutral. HP has ensured the entire lifecycle of Tango Terra is carbon neutral, from raw material extraction and processing, printer manufacturing and transportation to printing including electricity, paper and cartridge use.

HP Tango Terra is ENERGY STAR certified, EPEAT Gold registered and made with 30 percent closed loop recycled plastic. It is delivered in plastic-free packaging, comes with HP EcoFFICIENT Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified paper and HP Planet Partners provides responsible recycling for end-of-use consumer printers and HP cartridges.

In addition, the Tango Terra printer is made using 30 percent recycled plastic with 48 73 percent recycled content cartridges that include ocean-bound plastics.

Environmental attributes include:

  • Plastic-free packaging that is 100 percent curbside recyclable.
  • Reduced inbox materials by 50 percent.
  • Setup instructions are printed on the box instead of a separate piece of paper.
  • Made with 40 percent recycled content.
  • Molded pulp cushion made from 100 percent recycled content.
  • Responsible recycling of old printers and HP cartridges is included via HP Planet Partners.
  • HP’s EcoFFICIENT FSC-certified paper helps stop deforestation and protect wildlife.
  • Reduced plastic waste with Instant Ink subscription-based service, which provides a recycling envelope for HP cartridge recycling.

HP also outlined a $200 million commitment to develop water-based ink technologies for printing digitally on corrugated packaging and textiles. 

“If we continue to consume in the way that we are and at the rate that we are, we are going to need 2.3 Earths by 2050,” emphasized Jackowski. “The reality is, as we all know—unless Elon Musk is wildly successful with SpaceX—we only have one.”

Flip through this gallery for a behind-the-scenes look at HP’s recycling operations in the Nashville area and for more on the company's sustainability initiatives.

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