EP Attends HP Sustainable Impact Summit: An Inside Look at How It’s Done

EP Attends HP Sustainable Impact Summit: An Inside Look at How It’s Done

HP Inc. is making huge strides in the manufacturing and recycling sectors for its products. Environmental Protection was lucky enough to witness how the company meets its impressive sustainability goals at the Summit last week with site tours and a speaker agenda.

This past week was a busy one for Environmental Protection (EP), and an exciting one for HP Inc. (HPI). Weeks after announcing its Forest Cooperative with WWF to reduce deforestation impacts in the printing industry, HPI hosted a Sustainability Summit where it shared a few big announcements: the company’s first carbon neutral, home printing system; a commitment to water-based ink products; and a continued goal of reinventing the printing industry as we know it for the Planet, People, and Community.

I was lucky enough to represent EP at the summit, and it proved to be a day full of inspiration, new learning, and innovation on a part of HPI and its partnerships. We started the day with a tour of two recycling facilities: one for HPI’s ink cartridge recycling program, and another plastic recycling facility in La Verge, TN. The afternoon consisted of a handful of presentations by HPI leaders, and a Q&A to answer the audience’s questions.

Here’s a breakdown of what I saw, learned, and took away from this experience:

Cartridge Recycling Tour

Our personal tour through the ink cartridge facility fascinating. First, they outfitted us with safety PPE and got a general overview of HPI’s “closed loop” ink cartridge recycling program that has been going on since the company’s start about 28 years ago. “Closed loop” essentially means all products that go into the manufacturing, delivery, and death of HPI’s cartridges are not repurposed, but completely recycled and re-manufactured into new ink cartridges.

The facility tour exposed us to a number of machines for the purpose of sorting incoming cartridges by type, disassembling them, shredding them, and preparing those materials for the manufacturing of new cartridges. Sorting is done both manually and with automated, AI systems with high-tech computers. While manual labor is important for identifying the occasional error by the sorting machine, the sorting technology has a 97-98 percent success rate. Cartridges are differentiated and organized into various bins by type. And if that’s not impressive enough, it sorts 250-300 cartridges per minute.

Next, cartridges are disassembled so the process can best utilize the various materials and parts for new manufacturing. Another impressive computer system machine does this disassembly before shredding—and by using this automated disassembly, 50 percent more plastic is extracted compared to general shredding before disassembly. And while this might be hard to grasp without seeing the machine operate, this basically means one thing: the facility’s computers are smart, and by separating the cartridges first, the overall process can move much more efficiently.

Last, the unused ink and sponges are extracted from the cartridges and saved for future use. The machines that extract and hold the extra ink were inspired by orange juice juicers, of all things—its rainbow colors that made you want to finger paint.

Next, materials are shredded and prepared to be shipped to manufacturing facilities for brand new ink cartridges. HPI leader Shelley Zimmer, who works on HPI’s Sustainable Impact and Design, said most people ask her about how sustainable and earth-friendly the recycling system really is when consumers need to ship cartridges and the materials need to be transported. The reality, she said, is undeniable: a closed system of recycling cartridges and utilizing materials has a significantly lower carbon footprint than does making new cartridges time and time again and sending them to the landfill. 

HPI cartridge consumers have been faithful for years about buying and recycling their cartridges, and this is really what has made the recycling system so successful and worthwhile. Yet, while customers are really making this program run (with hundreds of cartridges a day!), HPI said it could always benefit from more consumer participation.

Plastics Recycling Tour

The plastics recycling tour was a similar tour of equipment and processes, but this time, it focused on HPI as a client of Sims Recycling Solutions. Sims helps a number of companies find the best ways to recycle their products and reduce environmental impact through design, collaboration, invention, and innovation.

HPI and Sims have been partners for a long time, and the two teams have worked closely to help reduce packaging and plastic in HPI products, source more eco-friendly materials for HPI products, and renovate Sims recycling machinery and computer systems to better distribute, disassemble, and recycle various materials.

The Sims recycling plant sees dozens of HP printers, paper, and products every day, as well as packaging and plastics from HP and other clients. The facility is working hard to not only save and extract all kinds of plastics, cardboards, metals, and materials, but they are actively seeking new markets for them. The facility is at a point where it recycles a whopping 95 percent of packaging plastic that comes in.

One way the group uses this recycled packaging is with compact plastic logs: 50 to 60 lbs of plastic is compressed into logs, and these logs are used to make everything from carpeting, landscaping, park benches, flowerpots, and even Pringle lids.

Sims is one of the leading recycling groups in the world, and it is constantly finding way to utilize materials that often end up in landfills and oceans. However, even the tour guides and HPI and Sims leaders could agree: recycling infrastructure and systems in the U.S. and world are far from where they need to be. There is still much to be done.

Presentations

After the recycling plant tours, the group headed back to the hotel to hear from a handful of HPI leaders and partners.

HPI’s mission statement outlines three focuses: Planet, People, and Community. The event’s speakers spoke to all these points, and why HP is the leading printing organization in the world. Presentations were given by the following HPI leaders: Ellen Jackowski (Sustainability Strategy and Innovation), Shelley Zimmer (Sustainable Impact Programs), David Lary (Americas Supply Sales), and Camille Caron (Education and Sustainability 3D Printing and Digital Manufacturing.

Members of the Sims team and other HP employees and partners were also present and provided input on presentations and questions.

Ellen Jackowski’s presentation grabbed me at its core by reminding us why HPI puts all this time and effort into changing the printing industry. The founders of the original company, HP, were committed to modeling their business in a way that serves the Earth long before there was even a word for sustainability. That mission has not gone away; if anything, it has only been strengthened.

“If humans continue to consume at the rate that we are, we’re going to need 2.3 Earths by 2050,” said Jackowski on her first slide.

Almost two and half Earths? This problem is immensely complex, layered, and overwhelming. However, as Jackowski said, companies have an obligation—a responsibility—to pay attention to their environmental impacts. This includes asking where products come from, how they are consumed, packaged, used, and disposed of. In fact, company participation is arguably more important to the global climate problem than the average person taking shorter showers and using public transportation.

Jackowski outlined HPI’s Carbon Footprint: where it’s kicking things out of the park, and where it needs to improve. The company is already miles ahead of other printing companies in terms of the way it keeps the Earth in mind as a part of its business model. According to Jackowski, HPI carbon footprint is broken down as follows: 53 percent is from products and solutions, 46 percent is from supply chain, and just one percent is from operations.

This means that HP is truly operating sustainably, but is has work to do in creating more energy efficient products and re-inventing its supply chain to figure out what materials are the most environmentally conscious.

HPI recently announced an ambitious company goal—one it knows it can meet, but not without hard work and innovation. By 2025, the company wants 30 percent of its personal systems and product portfolios to be from post-consumer recycled materials.

They are currently at seven percent.

How will they achieve this? The company plans to re-invent its supply chain, re-think product design and packaging, invest more money into its reusable materials programs in third world countries like Haiti, and encourage a bigger overall recycling industry from other companies. They can’t do this alone—it takes a global, group effort to get anywhere.

And while there is a lot of work ahead, HPI was proud to report that since the start of its reusable materials program in March 2017, the company has used over 35 million plastic bottles of ocean-bound plastic for ink cartridges, and it’s created over 1100 new jobs. Read more on the program here.

HPI had some exiting news to share at the Summit as well. It just released its first carbon neutral certified product: “the world’s most sustainable home printing system.” The HP Tango Terra Printing System is a sleek new printing system. It comes in plastic-free packaging, is 100 percent recyclable, and is made from 40 percent recycled content. Not only is this product using recycled materials, but consumers can recycle it all over again when it’s out of use.

We heard from Shelley Zimmer, David Lary, and Camille Caron next. They shared exciting data about HPI impact to date and goals for the future. HPI uses an average of one million recycled bottles every day. By doing this, the company has a 30 percent smaller carbon footprint and a 60 percent reduction in fossil fuel reliance than it would if it used virgin plastic, or new and unrecycled plastic.

To date, HPI has recycled 830 million ink cartridges, 101 million hangers, and 4.4 billion bottles since the company’s start. This totals to a total of 3.3 billion pounds of recycled materials – that’s equivalent to the weight of 8,000 blue whales.

Takeaway

My experience at the HP Inc. Sustainability Summit this past was inspiring—HPI is a leading organization that has proven to be committed to its customers, its products, and its community, all by being environmentally conscious and eco-friendly.

The Summit’s hands-on recycling tours and informative presentations gave the audience a deep-dive understanding of the company’s entrepreneurial goals. However, it also served as a reminder that being conscious of the environment is not just possible for companies, but it should be a priority.

And it has no plans of stopping anytime soon: its 2025 goal of being 30 percent reliant on recycled materials is one way the company is driving the printing industry towards a better future, and with a sense of urgency. The time to act is now—we don’t have two and a half Earths.

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