If you buy a new printer, it stands to reason that you are also disposing of an old one. Like all other electronics, it is important to make sure that printer gets to a recycling center
rather than going in the trashcan. The plastics in printers contain fire retardants suspected to be harmful to human health, heavy metals on the circuit boards and valuable resources like copper, which are found in the cords.
There are a number of places that take old printers. Depending on your community and whether the printer is working, you may be able to take it to a government-sponsored recycling center, a private company that can rebuild it or a nonprofit that can put it back to use. You may even be able to cash in that old printer for credit toward a new one.
What kind of recyclable materials are in a printer?
Printers are a relatively new technology. Remington-Rand invented the first one in 1953. Then, they started appearing in businesses in the 1970s and homes in the 1980s.
Inkjet and laser printers are the most common kinds of printers on the market today. The inkjet uses liquid ink to create an image, while a laser printer uses powdered ink, usually referred to as toner. Old printers were most commonly a daisy wheel or dot matrix style.
Modern printers are typically made of plastic with some metal mixed in. The body and many of the internal components are plastic. (The plastic body is treated with a brominated flame retardant, which scientists suspect has poor effects on human health. This type of flame retardant has been banned in Europe.) The rollers, screws and circuit boards are metal. There are a couple components that fall in the “other” category, including the belts that help the printer head assembly move.
In addition, printers house ink or toner cartridges that are removable and can be disposed of separately. It is worth noting that the ink in printer cartridges is not toxic. However, when toner in a laser printer is heated, it releases volatile organic compounds
, which can be detrimental to human health. So, make sure to use laser printers in a well-ventilated room. When you change the cartridge, take care not to release too much toner into the air, and wash your hands thoroughly when you are finished.
How local governments, manufacturers recycle printers
Your local solid waste district may have an electronics recycling program, especially if you live in one of the 25 states that have passed e-waste recycling laws
. Some of these programs take computers, printers and electronic gear all the time. Examples include recycling centers in Hilo, HI, and Los Alamos County, NM. Others, like Pittsburgh
and Mercer County, NJ, have special collection days. Call the agency that handles recycling in your community or use 1-800-RECYCLING’s recycling search tool
to find out more about where you can recycle your printer.
Most manufacturers will take their old printers back for reuse and recycling. They have a variety of uses for the old machines. Some are rebuilt and resold. Others are scavenger for parts for rebuilt machines. In many cases, printers are recycled.
If you own a Hewlett-Packard or Compaq product, the company may even be willing to offer you credit toward a new HP printer
. The first step in this process is requesting a quote on your old item. Once you have that information, you purchase your new printer, send them the old one and fax in a proof of purchase for the new machine. HP will review your documents and mail you a check. The company, based in Palo Alto, CA, has been running its highly successful printer recycling program since 1987.
There are also standalone companies in many large communities that will take printers and electronics for a fee. An Internet search or the phone book will yield results such as Earth Friendly Recycling
in Vancouver, WA, or Blue Star Recyclers
in Colorado Springs, CO
Charities, schools and other nonprofits may be willing to take your working printer off your hands and put it back to use in their offices or classrooms. Check with your preferred local groups to see if they accept donations. Or, look for a nonprofit electronics recycling organization in your community, which may take your reusable or non-reusable printer for job training and life skills programs for people with disabilities or troubled youth.
Do not forget printer cartridges
Printer cartridges are fairly easy to recycle. Most major retailers, including Office Max and Staples, will take them back inside the store. Many communities have smaller, locally owned stores like Rapid Refills
or Cartridge World
that accept toner cartridges for recycling. If you own an inkjet printer, you can even recycle your own cartridges by purchasing an ink refill kit. They are available at retailers such as Walgreens or online shops like Amazon. Buying the ink costs quite a bit less than buying new cartridges, so you can save money while you cut down on waste.