All that plastic was exactly what HP needed to experiment with and have as a steady source to ramp up its bid to incorporate more closed loop recycled plastic into new hardware products.
Working closely with companies throughout the supply chain, including the electronics recyclers, recycled-plastics processors and even different divisions within HP — the “clients” for the recycled plastic — HP’s team tested different approaches and hammered out solutions to challenges as they cropped up. “We did a lot of learning by doing,” says Miller.
For instance, HP initially thought the financial model that would pay off would be to disassemble the used products into their various components. So the recyclers and plastics-compounder researchers worked on the factory floor, taking apart printers to understand the mix of materials used and what taking them apart would entail.
After just a few days, it became clear that this approach wasn’t going to pay off — the value of the materials didn’t cover the cost of the labor to disassemble them. But HP used the insights it gleaned from the exercise to separate out products that had high amounts of good plastics from the ones with problematic or contaminated materials. Then it employed the traditional shredding and separating process for recycling.
Every partner in the effort benefited, creating a more sustainable process as a whole. “It really was a win-win-win situation,” says Miller.
Previously, electronics recyclers had been largely working in silos, receiving material from collection programs like Best Buy or from state take-back programs and then finding markets for the commodities they could recover. But these markets are highly volatile, with big swings in demand and prices often booting recyclers out of business. So for recyclers, HP’s innovation creates a more stable market. “That incentivizes them to make investments that improve their outputs,” says Miller. “Before, they’d been very nervous about making those kinds of capital investments.”
With those investments, better-quality material is being sent to the processors, so they can reliably provide HP with the top-notch resins it needs to make its printers. “The quality of the material we're creating is very high-end, which is making our initial implementations much easier, bringing us back to the start of the circle,” says Miller.
Making smart choices even easier
Meanwhile, through trial and error at Best Buy stores during the pilot, HP figured out the kinds of marketing offers that would boost customer recycling while spurring sales of HP’s products.