All about Ink and Toner Cartridge Recycling

Ink and Toner Cartridge Recycling

Learn about printer cartridge recycling, why you should do it, what to think about and how and where to return your cartridges. Good recycling programs to join are listed for non-profit organizations, home owners and businesses.

Cash recycling program for printer cartridges
What is printer cartridge recycling What is printer cartridge recycling?
Why recycle printer cartridges Why recycle printer cartridges?
printer cartridge recycling programs Start Recycling!
» Accepted cartridges and payment levels
» Marketing tips for your cartridge recycling program
» Cash rewarding recycling programs for non-profit organizations
» Cash rewarding recycling programs for businesses/home owners
» Non-cash recycling programs / Donate to fundraising programs
» Other recycling websites and businesses we recommend a visit to


Tip 1:
Read other articles about Printing Green!

Tip 2:
Buy Remanufactured Printer Cartridges!

What is printer cartridge recycling?

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A printer cartridge can consist of varying amounts of recycled material. The environmental cost will be very different depending on to which extent recycled materials are used in the production of the cartridge.

We define recycled printer cartridges as cartridges that are made from reworked waste or parts of old printer cartridges.

The generic process used during printer cartridge recycling is as follow:

  1. Upon arrival, cartridges are sorted based on model and condition and broken down into their main parts.
  2. Cartridges are checked for damage and overall condition. Damaged and worn parts are replaced by fresh components.
  3. Cartridges are reassembled and filled with new printer ink or toner. Cartridges are tested automatically for errors and then sealed in new packages.
  4. Recycled cartridges are sold to offline and online supply shops marketing them as remanufactured cartridges.

Recycling concepts and terms are unfortunately often mixed up and used in the wrong way. Some of the most commonly used terms and concepts are presented and explained below. Printer cartridges with the lowest environmental impact are presented first with the rest following in a descending order

Refilled cartridges

Refilled cartridges are printer cartridges that have been refilled with new ink or toner by printer cartridge owners or shops. Home owners can refill their cartridges by buying refill kits.

When going for this alternative, please be aware that worn or end of life-cycle components in your printer cartridge may need to be replaced. If not, the printer might print with lower quality than expected. Follow the instructions provided in the refill kit carefully to avoid leakage and handling errors when refilling your cartridge.

Refilling the cartridge is often the only alternative for reuse of non branded cartridges or previously recycled cartridges as most recycling companies do not accept these. Read more on which type of cartridges are accepted.

Refurbished / reused / remanufactured cartridges

These types of cartridges are to a greater or lesser extent produced from old printer cartridge parts that have been reused or repaired. All parts are examined, washed and tested individually to meet or exceed the quality standards set up by the OEM cartridge manufacturer. Key parts affecting quality and performance of the printer cartridge are replaced with new components while the cartridge case and non-wearing components are kept.

It’s better to re-use parts of old printer cartridges than to create new waste that ends up in landfills or incinerators. Less waste and energy are used in the manufacturing of these cartridges compared with recycled cartridges thus making them a better purchase.

Recycled cartridges

These cartridges are made from reworked waste. The energy cost for transportation, sorting and transformation is higher than for the group above making this a slightly worse alternative to go with.

We chose to group together recycled cartridges with refurbished, reused and remanufactured cartridges in this article to make things more understandable. Thus, recycled printer cartridges are according to our definition cartridges that are made from reworked waste or parts of old printer cartridges. Approximately 20-30% of all sold printer cartridges worldwide are a recycled cartridge.

Virgin cartridges

These cartridges have the worst impact on the environment. Virgin cartridges are produced from new raw materials which demand much energy during production while creating new waste when they are empty.

Example: An average toner cartridge, used in laser printers, faxes and copiers is made of 40% plastic requiring up to 1 gallon (3.7 liters) of oil. The rest of the cartridge consists of 40% metal and smaller amounts of rubber, paper, foam and toner.

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Why recycle printer cartridges?

Save landfill space and tax dollars

Over 375 million empty toner cartridges and ink cartridges are thrown into the trash every year in the US. Most of these printer cartridges end up on landfill sites or in incinerators.

375 million cartridges amount to roughly 11 cartridges being disposed of every second. If you put all these cartridges end to end they would cover a distance encircling the earth over three times.

This mountain of waste can be reduced through reuse and recycling. Yet approximately 70% of all ink cartridges and 50% of all toner cartridges are still not recycled. Things are continuously changing for the better with pressure from legislation, environmental awareness among consumers and a more mature recycling industry.

The plastics used in printer cartridges are made of an engineering grade polymer that have a very slow decomposing rate ranging between 450 to 1000 years depending on the cartridge type. Ink cartridges may also leak printer ink polluting the surrounding environment.

The recovery, reuse and recycling of all these empty printer cartridges will save tax dollars since we all pay taxes for landfills through waste management costs.

Help conserve natural resources

By recycling printer cartridges, we conserve natural resources and energy by reducing the need for virgin materials. Up to 97 percent of the materials that make up a printer cartridge can be recycled or reused if taken care of. Printer cartridges can in extreme cases be refilled up to 15 times before reaching the end of their life most though averaging between 5-7 refills.

Save money and help creating jobs

Buying recycled printer cartridges can reduce the cost with up to 50% compared to cartridges that are made of virgin materials or non reused parts. Depending on the recycling program and printer cartridge type you will get money back for every returned cartridge.

NYCWasteLe$$ has a cartridge cost saving measurement tool for governments that might be of interest to use in your organization while trying to calculate possible cost savings.

By purchasing and returning printer cartridges you support the local economy. The remanufacturing business employs thousands of people spread out over many smaller and locally owned companies.

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How to start recycling and what to think about


1. Which cartridges are accepted?
2. How much money will you earn?
3. Marketing tips for your cartridge recycling program
4. Where to return your printer cartridges

Which cartridges are accepted?

Only OEM cartridges are unfortunately accepted in most paying recycling programs. An OEM cartridge has never been recycled before and bears the name of the printer brand i.e. HP, Lexmark, Dell etc. Cartridges that have variations of the words “remanufactured”, “compatible with”, “replaces…” or "manufactured from new and used parts" printed on the cartridge will not be accepted by most programs.

Some printer cartridge recyclers accept previously recycled cartridges. The compensation level is however low and only few cartridge models are accepted. Check our lists of printer cartridge recyclers that accept these cartridges.

Printer cartridges that are sent in for recycling needs to be in good condition to be accepted by the recycling companies. Handle your printer cartridge with care and according to the specific instructions given from the recycling service. Be sure to check which cartridges are accepted before you send them in. Recycling companies will only pay for cartridges they accept and some will also charge a penalty for cartridges that are not accepted.

The following inspection criteria can be used before you send in your cartridges. These are enforced by many recyclers and recycling programs offering cash for your cartridges.

Inkjet Ink Cartridges

  • Make sure that the case is not broken or have cracks
  • The contact area should be firmly attached to the cartridge case
  • The flex tape should not be broken and be firmly attached to the cartridge case
  • The nozzle plate should not have any holes or be broken
  • One of the key components of an ink cartridge is the nozzle plate / print head. Attached to it are resistors that heat the ink causing it to expand and shoot through the jets onto the paper. The heating elements i.e. the transistors can burn out if you print with an empty ink tank. For this reason, most printers warn you when you are about to run low on ink. Stop printing when warned and change to a new cartridge. Read more on correct ink cartridge handling.
  • Most Epson and many of Canons ink cartridges only consist of an ink tank making them non-accepted in paying recycling programs. All parts which normally are integrated into the ink cartridge are in these brands inkjet printer models attached directly onto the printer.

Ink Cartridge Recycling Explanation


Laser Toner Cartridges

  • The casing should not have any cracks, missing parts, non-original screws or clips
  • Shutter(s), sensor tabs and pins are present and in place
  • Make sure that the cartridge is a original makers cartridge (as stated in the top of the paragraph)
  • No components should be missing from the cartridge
  • Copier toner bottles and cartridge tubes are not accepted

Ink Cartridge Recycling Explanation Ink Cartridge Recycling Explanation


Ribbon Cartridges

These cartridges are not accepted by any paying recycling company.

How much money will you earn?

Cartridge recycling is perfect for organizations that want to raise funds for a specific cause or for businesses and home owners that want to cut costs on printer cartridges.

The compensation you get for a printer cartridge varies and is dependent upon factors such as:

  • cartridge type (ink/toner)
  • printer brand
  • cartridge model
  • amount of returned cartridges
  • recycling company

Toner cartridges will in general return more money than inkjet cartridges. Compensation levels vary a lot between cartridge models but are often in the span of $0.01 to $15.

Marketing tips for your cartridge recycling program

Try getting your biggest supporters like employees, volunteers, suppliers, partners and parents excited about your recycling campaign. Suggested marketing activities:

  • Send an email explaining your program
  • Include a message in your monthly newsletter or in your email signatures
  • Create leaflets for visitors to bring home
  • Create a campaign web site or a web page on your existing web site. The web is perfect if you want to reach out with your message in a cost efficient way.
  • Get companies in your neighborhood involved. Many of them will like the environmental side of the program and feel good about supporting a good cause. Make it easy for them to help by giving them marketing material and cartridge bags for your recycling program.
  • Put up posters at popular spots in the community
  • Get parents involved and hand out collection boxes/cartridge bags that they can bring to work
  • Promise some sort of recognition or prize to the most successful recycling individuals or teams

Make sure that all involved parties understand how they or the nature benefit from the fund drive! Excellent templates for creating marketing material for your printer cartridge recycling campaign can be downloaded here.

Where to return your printer cartridges

Companies offering printer cartridges recycling programs will provide you with easy to follow instructions on how to recycle your cartridges. Most recycling companies will also offer you pre-paid shipping and free packaging material – check the individual programs since options may vary.

If you intend to recycle on a regular basis and can offer larger quantities of printer cartridges you will probably be eligible for a free pickup by the recycling company.

Please note that none of the recycling companies or services mentioned below are endorsed by InkGuides. It's up to you to read the terms before joining respective recycling program.

» Cash rewarding recycling programs for non-profit organizations
» Cash rewarding recycling programs for businesses/home owners
» Non-cash recycling programs / Donate to fundraising programs

Cash recycling program for printer cartridges

Recycling printer cartridges is an excellent activity if you want to raise money for your cause. Setting up a recycling program for your organization is easy. We have collected well known recycling programs that all operate nationwide and focus on working with non-profit organizations.

After signing up with one of the programs they will send you prepaid envelopes that you and your supporters can use for sending in empty printer cartridges. Each envelope should have a specific code for your organization. All you need to do is to put the cartridges in the envelope and drop it in a mailbox. Once the recycling company receives and approves the cartridges, they'll make out a check and send it to you. Note that certain payment thresholds may apply before money is paid out.

Name Accept ink cartridges? Accept toner cartridges? Accept Non-OEM cartridges?
Empties4Cash Yes No No
Recycle4Charity Yes Yes Yes
Think Recycle Yes Yes No
FundingFactory Yes Yes No
Recycle4Dollars Yes No No
GlobalRe-SourceFunding Yes Yes Yes
EcoPhones Yes No No
AtoZ Recycling Yes No No
Phone Raiser Yes No No
Cartridge Fundraising Yes Yes No
Planet Green Recycle Yes Yes Yes
Cartridges For Kids Yes Yes No
USRecycleInk Yes Yes No
EOS USA Yes Yes Yes (some few)

Cash recycling program for printer cartridges

Below listed services are a mix of recycling companies and services all operating on a nationwide basis. Some of the recycling companies mentioned in above table may also accept individuals and businesses.

Name Accept ink cartridges? Accept toner cartridges? Accept Non-OEM cartridges?
Recycle-free Yes Yes No
Free Recycling Yes No No
Enviro Solutions LLC Yes No No
Toner Buyer No Yes Yes
Ecycle Group Yes Yes Yes
Recycle Rewards Yes Yes No
Sunset Recycling Yes Yes No
Advantage Cartridge Yes Yes Yes
Recycle Place Yes Yes No
T3Toner Yes Yes No

Cash recycling program for printer cartridges

All major printer manufacturers have their own recycling program. Read the instructions that came with your cartridge package to find out how to send in your old cartridge for recycling.

Links to respective printer manufacturers recycling program can be found below:


Below listed recycling programs support a specific fundraising program. Donate your cartridges by following the instructions given on respective program.

Name Accept ink cartridges? Accept toner cartridges? Accept Non-OEM cartridges? Fundraising program
Seasons Centre Yes Yes No Support grieving children
Transverse Myelitis Association Yes Yes No Support research in neuroimmunologic diseases
Recycle for Breast Cancer Yes Yes No Support breast cancer prevention
Cure Recycling Yes No No Support CURE Childhood Cancer research
Recycle for soldiers Yes Yes No Support military assistance organizations

Find a local printer cartridge recycler by doing a search below. Recycling resources will also include chain stores such as Staples and Office Depot. Most of the recycling locations will not give you a direct cash reward but might give you a coupon for future purchases.


Other recycling websites and businesses

We have below listed some other recycling oriented web sites and businesses that we recommend to visit:

  • EnviroLink - Database of thousands of environmental resources

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