Australians use 18 million printer consumables each year with the bulk of these inkjet cartridges and toners ending up as hazardous landfill. But an innovative Melbourne-based organization is turning this waste into viable products, transforming an environmental program into a serious business proposition.
In fact, so serious that the organization is planning to go public and list on the Australian stock exchange.
The Close the Loop (CTL) program which began as an environmental initiative in 1998 recycling toners and cartridges is set to go global with expansion based on an Australian designed and developed Green Machine.
The machine, which is located at CTL's 5295sq m facility, can pull apart nine different plastics in a single cartridge; technology has also been developed to separate dye-based and pigment-based inkjets.
This waste including plastics, metals, steel, aluminium and toner, is being turned into e-wood, a timber replacement product that can be used for fencing, garden materials, playground equipment and office furniture.
E-wood is currently undergoing durability testing at the CSIRO and CTL business development manager Melinda Lizza said the organization is stepping up its R&D efforts to find more innovative ways to use the waste.
She said CTL, which is eyeing China is the location for its next facility, is unaware of any similar machines currently in operation worldwide.
In the last financial year alone CTL has invested more than $700,000 in R&D and more than $1.3 million on plant and equipment.
Even with 38 full-time staff, Lizza said CTL is working overtime collecting 300 bags of waste per day.
CTL works with more than 3000 end users, suppliers, government and businesses and has set up more than 2000 collection points for consumables, including Australia Post and Harvey Norman.
Lizza said there are five telesales people calling organizations daily to participate in the program which so far had collected 360 tonnes of waste or 614,000 items.
Despite the huge tonnage this is only 10 percent of the total number of consumables that end up in landfill and waterways each year which is why corporate support is so important.
"We take everything that is sent to us unlike remanufacturers who cherry-pick for virgin cartridges for re-sale; unlike us they do not guarantee zero waste to landfill so there is no commitment to what happens to the waste," Lizza said.
"IT managers don't usually buy from remanufacturers but procurement managers do because they don't realize there are a lot of hidden costs; faulty cartridges result in more reprints and plenty of paper waste."
Lizza said every item that goes through the facility is recorded so participating businesses get a 'resource recovery certificate' at the end of the year showing how much waste they have diverted from landfill.
CTL's biggest supporter is Hewlett-Packard, which has diverted 145 tonnes of waste, and has 1300 of its customers registered in the program throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Like other organizations participating in the program, HP wears the cost of collecting the consumables and delivering them to the facility each day.
HP's South Pacific VP of the imaging and print group, Rebekah O'Flaherty, said all the company's printing products are designed for the environment from the beginning of the product lifecycle to the end.
The aim is to reduce the number of parts returned for recycling and fits with the current legislative climate where environmental clauses are now a routine part of government tenders.
HP also has a government relations team working on standards that will form the basis of legislation being drafted by government.