How to Dispose of Ink Cartridges

Ink products are an essential part of everyday life at home, school, and work. Without an office or home printer, it might be impossible to create great projects or even do simple household tasks. But what happens to the cartridges when they run out of ink?

Tossing this plastic waste into the trash seems like the most convenient option. But dumping cartridges in landfills is harmful to the environment and a waste of plastic.

Why Are Ink Cartridges Dangerous to the Environment?

Ink Cartridge

Ink cartridges are made of steel and plastic parts. They necessitate a resource-intensive procedure, with the end product taking between 450 and 1,000 years to degrade. The figures are alarming.

Every year, over 375 million empty ink and toner cartridges are discarded, with a large portion ending up in landfills. Because of its long lifespan, every single ink cartridge ever produced is still out there, somewhere. You can understand how harmful these cartridges may be to the environment.

Recycling spent ink cartridges, on the other hand, reduces the amount of natural resources and energy required to produce new ones. One cartridge’s manufacturing process produces 4.8 kg of carbon dioxide into the environment (about the weight of a cat).

Ink cartridges are highly recyclable due to their nature. Most cartridges can be remanufactured or reused four to six times before they become too worn out to be reused. Some damaged cartridges are even repairable.

If you have other waste that a not environment-friendly, you might want to see our complete guide on How to Dispose of Hazardous Waste.

How Can I Safely Dispose of Ink Cartridges?

Ink Cartridge Disposal

It is quite unfortunate that some parts of cartridges make recycling at home unsafe. Luckily, there are many ways to ensure that these cartridges do not end up in landfills. Manufacturers and retailers are aware of the problem and have created recycling options for all types of ink and toner. Here are a few ways to safely dispose of ink cartridges.

Taking Empty Cartridges to the Retailer

Returning empty cartridges to the store is one of the best options if you print and buy regularly.

Most large office supply stores will take old or empty cartridges or will point you in the direction of a provider that will. This is a simple way to dispose of old cartridges and guarantee they are recycled properly.

Many large office supply stores will gladly accept your used cartridges as part of a rewards program. Office Depot, Walmart, Staples, Costco, and Target are among these retailers. If you are unsure whether your local branch participates, simply call one of these retailers and inquire whether they accept ink cartridges for recycling.

These programs frequently provide savings on additional ink. You can keep returning them to save money while you are playing your part in saving the planet and reducing waste in our landfills.

When purchasing from a store or online merchant, inquire about drop-off locations near where the cartridge is sold. You can also visit their website or call their customer service representatives.

Returning Cartridges To The Manufacturer

First, you have to determine if your manufacturer offers a recycling program. Many manufacturers package their ink cartridges with a returnable envelope. If not, check the manufacturer’s website or call to see if they support a recycling program.

If they do, you will need to pack the cartridges properly. Manufacturers will often specify guidelines on how to pack and ship the spent cartridges to avoid leakage. Make sure to follow their specific instructions.

You can now ship the cartridges to the address they provide. It might be helpful to check their website for any drop-off sites near you. Once the manufacturer receives the cartridges, they will handle the recycling.

Refill Cartridges To Use Again 

Having your spent cartridges refilled is far less expensive than purchasing a new one. It can save you or your organization a significant amount of money in the long term, especially if you print a lot.

Before refilling your cartridges, you need to determine if reuse is right for you. Reusing ink cartridges is low-cost and very environmentally friendly, but you do have to wait while the cartridges are cleaned and refilled.

Additionally, you need to check that your cartridges are refillable. Some cartridges are not designed for refilling. Others may also not be accepted by retailers for various reasons.

If you have an original brand ink cartridge that you have used just once, there is a very good chance you can refill and reuse that cartridge with the correct ink refill kit.  Most refill kits include a bottle of ink, a syringe, a screw tool, plastic gloves, and refilling instructions. 

To refill, you will need to manually inject the appropriate level of ink into the cartridge. Once the cartridge is at capacity, you should be able to reuse the cartridge again and print as expected.

Be sure the refill kit you’ve purchased is intended for your specific cartridge series. Refill instructions and ink capacities vary across brand and cartridge types. Please note that ink cartridges can only be refilled a couple of times.

There are many stores where you can get your cartridges refilled, depending on your region. You can always walk into Walgreens, Office Max, or Cosco.

Register with a Recycling Program

Recycling programs make getting rid of any recyclable item in your home easy. Local recycling facilities are a lot easier to find than you might think. All you need to do is to find the right one that suits your needs. 

There are a number of independent charities or programs that will accept or even pay money for spent cartridges. Think about a cause you want to support, but also keep in mind the scale. Often, these organizations are targeting businesses for donations. Some organizations may have volume or frequency minimums in order to use their service.

Whichever program you settle on, most require that you enroll in order to donate. Typically, there is a simple web form you can fill out to register. Once you’re signed up, most organizations will send you shipping supplies and instructions on how to donate.

Once you’ve gathered your empty ink cartridges, go to to find the nearest recycling facility. All you have to do is put “printer cartridges” into their recycling finder, enter your zip code, and you’ll get a list of all the recycling places in your area.

Maintenance Tips For Ink Cartridges

Proper maintenance is an excellent way of reducing ink cartridge waste. This will make your ink last longer and ensure your cartridges are refillable. Follow these guidelines.

1. Proper care starts the moment you bring home a new cartridge. Before you install the cartridge, be sure to inspect it. Gently shake the cartridge or tap it on a hard surface a couple of times to prime the ink. 

On the top of most cartridges, you’ll find a piece of plastic tape that covers the vent hole and a plastic clip that protects the cartridge while in transit. Not every cartridge will have a clip or tape, but if they do, it’s important to remove them before you try installing your ink. We recommend doing this over a trashcan as ink can sometimes escape from the cartridge when you remove the tape. 

2. You must properly store and protect your ink cartridge. First, we recommend keeping the cartridges in their sealed packaging until you need them. If you remove a cartridge from its packaging and it sits out for a long period, it will eventually dry out. Storing them upright in a relatively dark closet is also preferred. Once installed in the machine, cartridges left on their side might shift the ink to one side, which could affect your print results. 

3. To keep the ink flowing, print at least 1-2 pages every week/fortnight. If an inkjet printer is left dormant for an extended period, ink cartridges may dry up and nozzles can clog. Do not pull out the ink cartridge as soon as you get the first ‘cartridge empty’ warning on your computer screen. Chances are that there’s 30-50% ink still left in the cartridge. Therefore, keep printing until you notice banded text or blurred lines in print.

Bottom Line

Proper disposal of ink cartridges is important because the materials used to make ink and toner cartridges can be harmful to human health and the environment.

Printer cartridges are made of a complex blend of plastic, metal, foam, ink, and toner. As a result, these components can not easily be separated.

You can’t toss empty ink cartridges in with standard paper and plastic recycling. 

However, don’t toss them in the trash either.

Fortunately, nearly 100% of printer cartridge materials can be recycled.

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