Only one in five ink and toner cartridges were recycled in Australia in 2020.
E-waste is set to hit 74.7 million tonnes by 2030.
HP is the first tech manufacturer to offer a cartridge subscription service in Australia.
HP’s Instant Ink service has doubled the rate of return of used cartridges for recycling.
As more consumers upgrade and adopt new technologies and gadgets, new solutions are also required for both CO2 emissions and the steadily increasing problem of e-waste. The technology sector contributes two to three per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In 2019, humans generated 53.6 million tonnes of e-waste globally, and this is expected to hit 74.7 million tonnes by 2030. Evidently, the tech sector needs to rethink manufacturing and operational processes to address its environmental impact.
One brand leading the way in this industry is HP. The company is reimagining its products and processes to incorporate circularity and consumer needs, and its printing offering is no exception. Through HP’s Instant Ink initiative, the company has introduced the Product-as-a-Service (PaaS) business model to reduce the environmental impact of printer cartridges and divert waste from landfill.
HP is a multinational information technology company working towards reducing its carbon footprint and incorporating principles of circularity across its product and service portfolio of personal systems, printers, and 3D printing solutions. We recently sat down with Rachael Williams, Director Printing Systems, for Australia and New Zealand, to discuss how HP is rethinking printing solutions.
One of the company’s circular economy initiatives is HP Instant Ink, a printer cartridge subscription service that launched in Australia in April 2020. The first of its kind in Australia, the service is changing the way households and small-to-medium businesses use their printers, making it easier for them to reduce their environmental impact and recycle their cartridges.
According to the Global Footprint Network, in 2019 global resource consumption occurred 1.75 times faster than the planet’s ecosystems capacity to regenerate resources. Faced with the inevitability of a constrained resource environment, HP is changing how it designs, delivers and recovers its products to enable its customer base to grow while shrinking its carbon and materials footprint.
The tech giant has adopted a “full circle” approach across its operations underpinned by its transition to a PaaS model that provides services rather than products. It has adopted this approach to support an economy that is regenerative by design, aiming to keep products, components and materials at their highest value and reduce reliance on natural resources. HP's product lifecycle approach focuses on reuse, reinvention and reintroduction. As an organisation it is working to:
Design out waste and use materials responsibly by increasing material efficiency, using more recycled content and replacing materials of concern.
Create a low-carbon future by improving product energy efficiency and decreasing the carbon and water footprints of products.
Keep materials and products in use by designing products for long life, offering service-based solutions and recapturing products and materials at end-of-service.
Regenerate natural systems by focusing on tackling ocean plastic pollution and protecting and restoring global forests.
As a technology company actively producing printing solutions, HP knows that cartridge recycling is critically important to keeping the valuable materials used to produce them in circulation. However, research shows fewer than one in five ink and toner cartridges were recycled in Australia in 2020. As a business, HP saw the need to challenge the traditional service model to make it easier for consumers to adopt more sustainable solutions when using tech products.
The circular economy is ushering in an altogether different model, called product-as-a-service (PaaS) which replaces these one-time transactions with ongoing, contractual, subscription-based customer service relationships.
Not only do these services provide more value for customers, who pay only for the service they need rather than the hardware and materials that deliver them, but they also provide proven environmental benefits.
HP’s Instant Ink service is structured as a subscription model, which is available to both households and businesses, and aims to improve resource efficiency and increase used cartridge recovery and recycling.
The service uses connected HP printers to monitor the customers’ ink and toner use, sending replacement cartridges before they run out without the customer having to interact with the service provider. Customers do not pay for the replacement cartridges; instead, they are charged a flexible monthly rate based on how many pages they print, similar to a phone plan.
The service also delivers pre-paid envelopes for returning used cartridges for recycling through Cartridges 4 Planet Ark. The used cartridges are sent to Close the Loop’s recycling facility to be recovered and transformed into new materials, with zero waste to landfill.
HP’s Instant Ink subscription model demonstrates a competent recovery and recycling program in the consumer electronics sector. It uses high-volume cartridges, pricing based on pages printed and direct-to-customer shipping delivered only when the customer runs low on ink or toner. This means fewer cartridges travel shorter distances, require less packaging and are more likely to be recycled. This shift to a subscription-based printing service is helping to create a lower carbon footprint compared to traditional models and is increasing the recovery of valuable materials.
COVID-19 has changed the way we work. HP took that into consideration and recognised that the home office and school priorities of Australians are evolving as we embrace hybrid working and learning, and this is seeing a surge in the demand for printing.
HP uses Life Cycle Assessments (LCA) to assess the impact of its products. A LCA is a rigorous, science-based, quantitative methodology that assesses environmental impacts associated with all stages of the lifecycle of a product, process, or service, from raw material extraction through to materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance and disposal or recycling.
“HP’s LCA program encompasses all of its products, including HP Instant Ink, the results of which are used to guide environmental improvements in product development, business models and the company’s climate goals,” says Rachael.
The LCAs conducted for HP Instant Ink assessed the impact of printing 1000 pages against both low- and high-volume store-bought cartridges. The assessment considered the capacity differences, packaging, logistics, and cartridge specifications. The results demonstrated that the subscription service:
requires less packaging
delivers more pages per cartridge
dramatically reduces distribution impacts (fewer cartridges needed, simpler distribution, bulk shipping, and no consumer in-store purchasing)
and has greater end-of-life recovery rates (more cartridges are recycled)
“The LCA study results were clear and unmistakable: not only do HP’s circular service-based solutions, such as HP Instant Ink, have better environmental profiles, they also do so across all the environmental impact areas studied.”
These results are significant for HP, its customers, and the circular economy movement, providing empirical evidence that circular solutions reduce the need for additional virgin material extraction.
The move to customers paying via subscription for their printed output compared to owning the cartridge involves a significantly different engagement with the retail channel. HP Instant Ink sees the cartridge shipped directly to the end customer from HP’s distribution centre, with the retail partner promoting the service in cooperation with HP.
HP worked closely with Australia Post and New Zealand Post on the design of its recycling envelopes, to ensure the free service is easily accessible to all consumers who subscribe to HP Instant Ink. Simultaneously, HP built strong retail relationships through early engagement and regular meetings to explore the specifics of the program and to ensure the consumer benefits were clear to product and buying teams. HP found these strong channel relationships were instrumental in the successful launch of HP Instant Ink in the Australian market.
HP believe it’s more important than ever for businesses to acknowledge that the traditional “take-make-dispose” consumption model is not viable. Not only do partners and consumers look to organisations to take the lead when it comes to sustainable practices, they also look to those organisations to help them make sustainable decisions.
“Circular business is challenging for this very reason – it’s not enough to just change how an organisation does things, it must consider the product at all stages of its lifespan,” says Rachael.
“HP has always believed that by creating technology in the service of humanity, it can make life better. Essentially, HP knows that impactful change requires strategic, cross-sector partnerships at scale. For 20 years, the organisation has been working on minimising its environmental impact, and it has recently committed to becoming the most sustainable and just technology company, globally.”
The science shows PaaS systems significantly advance the circular and low-carbon economy through extended product life, optimisation of usage, manufacturing avoidance and material use and logistics reductions.
HP found that while PaaS is generally better for the environment, it is not always for the same reason. Each product system has different attributes which underwrite the circular improvement. Regardless of the benefits generated by the product system, circular solutions materially and reliably reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve resource efficiency. They also have demonstrably superior environmental performance, making them the preferred choice for eco-conscious customers.
“HP encourages consumers to think about using services rather than buying the product outright. This is done by asking questions such as: do I need to own the product, or do I want to access what it can do? Once these questions are answered, you can consider where you can upgrade to service-based solutions, switching to subscription-based offerings, such as service-based computing or printing, to gain the environmental advantages and access tailored solutions that meet your needs,” says Rachael.