HP Talks Rubbish On Green Printing


Schemes to recycle cartridges are more about preventing users from refilling them than saving the environment, says Peter Judge. HP could do so much better if it harnessed its engineering talent

It’s always amusing to sit down with Hewlett-Packard and talk about the company’s claims for green printing.

Despite being a leading server and network manufacturer, the company is widely reported to make more money out of printer ink than anything else it sells ($12 billion out of 2008’s $33 billion revenue).

During its lifecycle, a low-end printer costs vastly less than the consumables it uses – and HP pushes that even further by selling printers in which major parts of the printer electronics are built into the cartridge. That way the printers are cheaper, and the cartridges are even more expensive. The manufacturer gets maximum revenue over a printer’s life and major parts of the printer must be replaced every time the cartridge is changed.

Reuse is better than recycling (unless you are HP)

It is possible to refill these cartridges cheaply, and this would be very green. Reuse is patently, obviously, always better than recycling, because recycling means destroying cartridges and making new ones, a process that takes a lot of energy.

But HP makes refilling as difficult as possible. It operates a cartridge recycling scheme transparently designed to remove cartridges from circulation, forcing users to buy new ones instead of refilling them. And it operates scare tactics, to convince users that other vendors’ cartridges won’t work in its printers.

HP’s print crimes are no worse than those of most other printer manufacturers. Most low-end inkjet printers use disposable cartridges that include print-head electronics. And printer manufacturers have used many tricks to make us buy more of these printers and more of the cartridges. New printers are sold with half-empty cartridges, so they look even cheaper – and need more ink sooner.

But HP is particularly guilty because this is a company with a strong engineering heritage and ink cartridges are big business, but poor engineering. In a company like HP, there must be people who understand the basics principles of making the best use of materials.

And yet, despite this, it shows no embarassment. In fact it even has the gall to prevent its anti-refill campaign as green, using topsy-turvy greenwash arguments that simply defy belief.

Hewlett-Packard’s cartridge recycling scheme has provided plastic for more than 400 million print cartridges worldwide, said Bruno Zago, HP’s environment manager for UK and Ireland. When users send cartridges back to HP, they are never re-filled. That would allow users to have cheaper, greener consumables, and that’s not HP’s agenda.

Instead, all the cartridges are destroyed, Zago boasts. That means the plastic can be made into expensive new cartridges.

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