Recently, I did something I’m not proud of: I got a brand-new printer. I’m pretty dedicated to reuse, particularly when it comes to electronics. It depresses me to think about all the plastic, precious metals and other items that go into modern gadgets. However, I’d been pestering my co-worker to let me use her scanner practically every day, and when I found out that the company had a printer/scanner/copier sitting in storage, I jumped at the chance to use it. I started to reconsider that decision as soon as I opened the box. I was immediately confronted with layer upon layer of plastic, Styrofoam and other packaging materials. I groused about all this waste while I was setting up the machine and waiting for the software to install. I was going to have to find a good home for everything in the box, and how long was that going to take me? Would it be expensive and entail driving all over town? As it turned out, the whole process wasn’t as bad as I thought. In total, the packaging for my printer took up about 1.3 cubic feet of space. Most of that was the cardboard box, so once the box was broken down the pile looked like less intimidating. In total, it weighed less than 2.5 pounds. By far, the heaviest part of the packaging was cardboard, which I broke down and put in the recycling bin at my office. The installation manual (written in four languages) and an advertising flier went into the paper recycling can. If I’d been at home, the items could have gone into my wheelie bin. My company happens to be the only Styrofoam recycler in the area, so finding a home for the two pieces that held the printer was easy. The printer and its various cords were covered in plastic, but most of it was marked #4, which my local recycling center accepts. It’s a 15-minute drive from my office, but there is no charge to leave recyclables. The bag that held the printer looked like a plastic shopping bag, so in a pinch I could have taken it to a grocery store. Now I was down to the hard stuff. The spongy plastic that was protecting the glass top of the scanner had no immediately apparent home. Since the Christmas season was coming up, I cheated and kept it to wrap around fragile gifts. I also kept the twist ties that held the plastic bags closed since they can be reappropriated to the kitchen or garage. The tape over the toner cartridges went into the trash. I also couldn’t identify any way to recycle the wrappers that held the toner cartridges. Kelly Bell, who runs our local Master Recycler Program, said she isn’t aware of a local resource for recycling what she calls “space age candy wrappers.” The technology exists (check out Agilyx, which converts all kinds of plastic to fuel), but no one in this area is collecting it. Her suggestion? Turn the plastic wrappers inside out so the metallic silver coating shows, and use them as gift-wrap. Not sure I’m crazy about that idea, but I’ll hang onto them for a little while and see if I can use them when I make greeting cards. Finding a home for my old printer shouldn’t be hard. It works great, so I’m sure someone else in my office will scoop it up. If not, I could take it to Next Step Recycling, a local electronics recycler. Next Step accepts small laser printers for a $7 fee. It took less than an hour to locate recyclers and deliver the items to various places around town. I drove a total of 11.6 miles (although it would have been slightly more if I could not recycle Styrofoam at work). The only thing that ended up going in the trash was a tiny bit of tape. Overall, I was impressed by how easy it was to recycle the printer’s packaging. Yet there are still a few things manufacturers can do better:
- It would be nice if the company would put a number on the entire plastic wrap, not just some of it, to clear up confusion about how it should be recycled.
- The setup manual was quite large since it was written in four languages. The printer also came with an installation CD, which is one more item I’ll need to recycle when the printer dies. It seems like it would be easier and less wasteful to have instructions and software available for download from the company’s website.
- Several of the plastic bags were larger than they really needed to be, so the company could simply make them smaller in size. (I bought a printer for my house earlier this year and was impressed that it was wrapped in a reusable grocery bag rather than a plastic bag. Cool idea.)
- Figure out a way to recycle those darn space-age candy wrappers. Maybe in a way that involves giving me some actual candy.