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Extracting New Value from Old Printers

HP Brazil is leveraging the RFID information in its tagged ink-jet printers to recycle plastics.
By Jennifer Zaino
Jun 01, 2012—Electronics manufacturers that implement green strategies for recycling their products, so potentially toxic components don't end up in landfills, can have a huge impact on the environment and people's health. That's a message Hewlett-Packard (HP) has taken to heart. The company's corporate-wide commitment to recycling and reuse has led the manufacturer to recover more than 2.3 billion pounds of products since 1987.

To do its part, HP Brazil, in 2009, set up drop-off centers around the country, where customers could return ink-jet printers for recycling. The following year, it established the SmartWaste project, to leverage the RFID infrastructure it deployed to track printers using passive ultrahigh-frequency tags with Electronic Product Codes (HP Brazil won the 2007 RFID Journal Award for Best Implementation for tracking printers through production and distribution; see Keeping Tabs on Printers). The goal was to use the tag information to manage reverse logistics for end-of-life products. "We realized we had enough tagged printers in the market to use them," says Marcelo Pandini, HP Brazil's country operations manager.

HP Brazil doesn't need to have employees stationed at the recycling center to monitor the process. (Photo courtesy HP Brazil)

The forward-thinking company also believed the RFID-based recycling program would support compliance with the Brazilian government's National Solid Waste Policy (PNRS) legislation, enacted in August 2010, which makes electronics manufacturers responsible for collecting products and packages that can be reused. Brazilian officials estimate it will take four years until the legislation is enforced, and there are no mandates about what technology, if any, should be used to control the process, Pandini says. But thanks to RFID, HP Brazil is prepared to share recycling information with the government. "I think using a standard like EPC that already exists and is controlled by a nonprofit like GS1 could be one good option [for managing the recycling program]," he says.

Meanwhile, HP Brazil has been taking advantage of the valuable tag information on each printer. From July 2011, when the company implemented the SmartWaste solution, to the end of February 2012, it has collected 35 tons of plastics for reuse. The EPC and serial numbers on each tag link to a database with a wealth of information about each printer, including its recyclable materials, the majority of which are acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) and high-impact polystyrene (HIP) plastics.

"Our principle in recycling is to reintroduce such material into our supply chain again," for use in new printer products, Pandini says. "To do that, we need more information control about what comes back with what we are recycling."
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