Spring Cleaning 101: Tips on Recycling Used Printer Parts & Ink

tips recycling printer parts and ink

Spring has finally sprung, and if you’ve been bitten by the spring cleaning bug, you are probably looking all around your home and office for things that need to be tidied up. Some projects are obvious. Cleaning gutters, scrubbing your baseboards, and deep cleaning your fridge and freezer are all great tasks to tackle in the spring. And, at work, now is a good time to tackle your disorganized email inbox, neaten up your work area, and organize the supply closet.

This time of year is perfect for tackling those often-ignored cleaning tasks because something about spring makes us want to enjoy a fresh start. Things are coming to life outside our windows and in the natural areas surrounding our homes and offices, and we long to breathe some fresh life into the places where we spend most of our time, too.

When you’re tidying up, though, it is common—and frustrating—to run into things that you aren’t sure what to do with. If you have old printers clogging up your supply room or ink or toner cartridges that you don’t want to throw away but aren’t quite sure how to get rid of, don’t despair. We’ve put together this guide with helpful tricks on recycling used printer parts and ink cartridges to make it easier for you to dispose of these items in an environmentally friendly manner.

The Environmental Impact of E-Waste and Ink Cartridges

Electronic devices, including inkjet and laser printers, often contain a wide range of toxic materials, such as zinc, lead, barium, nickel, chromium, and flame retardants. When electronic waste ends up in landfills, those materials seep into the groundwater and can have a negative impact on human and animal life.

e-waste piled up on road

Many of these items are dumped in developing countries, and the people and wildlife there suffer the consequences. Guiyu, China, for example, is one of the largest e-waste disposal sites in the world. Electronic junk lines nearly every street. Impoverished laborers break down printers, computers, televisions, and other devices to sell reusable components to manufacturers. They use primitive methods and rudimentary tools and are exposed to all sorts of toxic elements.

Many of the people living and working in Guiyu suffer from neurological, digestive, respiratory, and bone problems as a result of exposure to the toxic materials found in the waste disposed of there. High levels of lead have been detected in blood drawn from children in the area. In addition, when e-waste gets hot, the toxic chemicals are released into the air. This damages the atmosphere and is one of the biggest impacts of electronic waste all around the world.

Ink cartridges are detrimental to the environment, too. Simply producing a toner cartridge requires about three quarts of oil. Manufacturing an inkjet cartridge uses about three ounces. The toner or ink inside is formulated using heavy metals and toxic compounds that do irreparable damage to the environment. Even when a cartridge is “empty,” it still has trace amounts of ink or toner inside that can leach out in landfills. It can contaminate groundwater and poison the soil. Ink cartridges are primarily made of plastic, which does not break down quickly in landfills. It takes a thousand years (or more) to fully decompose and can be mistaken by animals for food.

e-waste chemicals in environment graphic

Recycling Printers and Printer Parts

Whether your old inkjet or laser printer has finally called it quits or you are just looking to replace your device with an upgraded model, sending it to the landfill is not the way to go. In fact, many states strictly forbid you from throwing away old electronics, also known as “e-waste. Illegally dumping printers and other electronic devices could land you in some serious hot water, so you definitely want to dispose of them properly.

If you have a printer that you no longer need that is still fully functional, consider donating it. Some organizations even accept non-working devices. Students Recycling Used Technology, or StRUT, for example, is an organization that evaluates, repairs, and refurbishes electronic devices. In doing so, they gain valuable hands-on IT skills. You may also be able to find a nonprofit organization in your area that could use your old device in its operations.

Having your old devices recycled is a good option, too. This is especially true when you have a printer that is completely nonfunctional, missing parts, or extremely outdated. You probably can’t just throw your device in your recycling bin, unfortunately, but there are all sorts of other recycling options.

Driving it to a local recycling center that accepts electronics is always an option. Many communities also host events where local residents and business owners can pay a small fee to dispose of their electronic waste. Check with your city hall, county or city website, and local organizations to find out about e-waste drop-off locations and recycling events. You may also be able to find out about recycling options at E-cycling Central.

rows of defunct printers

Retailers like Staples and Best Buy accept old printers for recycling, too. They may also accept miscellaneous printer parts that you have lying around. They accept devices purchased from any retailer, and they may even offer some attractive incentives. If you recycle your old printer at Best Buy, for example, you will receive a coupon that you can use to save some money on your new printer. Saving the planter and saving some money … what’s not to love about that?

Last, you may be able to turn to your printer’s manufacturer for recycling. Some will even give you some money back for your device. Log on to the manufacturer’s website and search for information regarding recycling and buyback programs. At the very least, most will send you a box and prepaid shipping label so you can send your device in for recycling with no out-of-pocket cost.

Recycling Printer Ink and Toner Cartridges

They may seem small—especially the ones used in basic inkjet printers—but ink and toner cartridges are a huge problem for the environment. Each year, more than 375 million are thrown away and, of them, most end up in landfills. To break that down, that means about one million are being sent to landfills every single day. To make matters worse, it takes more than 1000 years for a cartridge to break down completely.

Fortunately, there are plenty of options for recycling them. In addition to keeping them out of landfills, recycling cartridges requires less energy than making new ones. This, of course, makes getting the printer ink or toner you need less harmful on the planet.

recycling ink cartridges environment graphic

Instead of throwing your empty cartridges in the trash, set them aside to recycle. Keep in mind, though, that if you just throw them in with the rest of your recyclables, they will likely end up being sorted out and thrown in the trash. They need to be separated and sent off to specific recycling centers and programs.

When you have cartridges that you need to get rid of, dropping them off at Staples, Office Depot, Costco, or Walgreens is one of your easiest options. These stores all accept cartridges and, sometimes, they even offer special promos that allow you to save money on your next purchase. If you aren’t sure where you can drop off your cartridges, Earth911 is an excellent resource that will help you find drop-off locations for ink and toner cartridges as well as just about anything else you could ever need to recycle.

If you have a large number of cartridges that you need to recycle or you are a business owner looking for a good way to deal with your ever-growing pile of old ink and toner cartridges, look for programs that offer cashback incentives. Organizations like Evolve Recycling provide prepaid shipping labels and give you a small amount of money for each cartridge you recycle. Some also allow you to donate your earnings directly to an organization or charity of your choosing. Many inkjet and toner manufacturers have their own recycling programs, too. Some will even give you prepaid shipping envelopes to send your old cartridges back in.

colorful pile of used inkjet printer cartridges

Keep in mind that, no matter what option you choose, your cartridges need to be in good condition. If you have inkjet or toner cartridges that have been damaged, they most likely cannot be recycled, unfortunately. When mailing your cartridges in for recycling, consider wrapping them in old newspapers or bubble wrap to provide cushioning and prevent damage when in transit. This is especially important when shipping several cartridges in the same package.

Other Options

If you have an empty OEM inkjet cartridge that has only been used once, consider refilling it yourself. Refill kits are widely available, and they are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. By refilling your cartridge, you can keep it out of the landfill while saving yourself a bit of money. Keep in mind, though, that cartridges should only be refilled in this manner a few times. There is also a risk of leakage when refilling your own inkjet cartridges.

Do you want to recycle your e-waste and cartridges for a good cause? If so, reach out to local schools and organizations. Ask them if they accept these items for recycling. They may have accounts with other organizations that pay them for recyclable materials. By giving your cartridges and e-waste to them, you may be able to make a difference in your community without spending a penny. If you are feeling crafty, there are even projects that can be made using old inkjet and toner cartridges, printer parts, and old printers. Check out Pinterest for inspiration!


Whether you use a printer at home or in the office, you undoubtedly have inkjet or toner cartridges that you need to dispose of on a regular basis. And, at some point, you will have a device that needs to be replaced. Instead of sending these potentially harmful items to the landfill—which, in some cases, is illegal—consider recycling them.

truck dumping trash at landfill

Printers, printer parts, ink cartridges, and toner cartridges are playing a huge role in damaging the environment and filling up landfills. Do your part by seeking out a recycling program that meets your needs. Whether you are an organization that burns through several cartridges per week or you are a home user who only uses up a few per year, committing to recycling them rather than throwing them away is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and do something positive for the world in which we live.

By seeking out companies and organizations with buyback programs, you can even put some money back in your pocket or contribute to your favorite school, charity, or local organization. You can also do your part for the environment by purchasing recycled and remanufactured cartridges. They require less energy and natural resources to produce, and they tend to cost significantly less than new OEM cartridges. Many manufacturers have even started producing printers made from recycled parts and components and, by purchasing one, you can help keep e-waste out of landfills.

If you are doing your spring cleaning, now is a great time to gather up your old printers, parts, and cartridges and recycle them. Now is also a perfect time to embrace more eco-conscious habits and commit to disposing of and recycling e-waste and printer cartridges appropriately. It’s easy to do, and the planet will thank you!