Ink cartridge collection will save waste & help Food Bank
By Lawrence McMahen
The U of S has joined a growing national trend to be more socially and environmentally responsible by turning used computer printer cartridges into food instead of plastic waste at the local dump.
It won’t be done by magic or alchemy. Environmental Technician Vance Lester, of the University’s Department of Health, Safety and Environment (DHSE), says it will be the result of a co-ordinated new effort to regularly gather the cartridges from more than 100 office sites across campus.
Lester is spearheading the joint U of S and Saskatoon Food Bank project, which is allied with the three-year-old national thINK FOOD program.
He explains he’s in the process of setting out collection boxes in 100-150 University offices, which should be completed by mid-October. Faculty, staff and students will be asked to drop used ink-jet and laser toner cartridges into their nearest collection box. DHSE will regularly collect the cartridges, then pack and ship them to thINK FOOD in Mississauga, Ont., where they will be sold either as remanufactured cartridges, parts, or scrap plastic.
thINK FOOD will directly pay the Saskatoon Food Bank the proceeds of all cartridges collected at the University, and some of the benefits will be seen by the U of S Students’ Union Food Centre, the campus operation affiliated with the local food bank.
“Our goal is to divert as many cartridges as possible from the landfill,” Lester says. He estimates as many as 400 printer cartridges are disposed by campus offices each month. While some are already being recycled, many go into the city landfill because there’s no organized collection system. He credits Teresa Snook, of the U of S Consumer Services Department, with collaborating on the original idea to collect the cartridges on campus.
“ An added benefit of this new program is that it will have some social benefit, for the food bank – and it will also directly help the USSU Food Centre, so we’re helping students as well,” Lester says.
He adds he hopes people in the University community might even bring their used printer cartridges from home, to be collected on campus.
“Each cartridge is worth about a carton of milk, a jar of peanut butter, or in some cases a whole meal,” he says.
Saskatoon Food Bank Director Bob Pringle is delighted with the University’s move.
“We’re absolutely thrilled,” Pringle says, noting the food bank could be paid $3-$5 for each used cartridge sent from the U of S to thINK FOOD.
So far, Pringle says, the food bank has about seven boxes at Saskatoon businesses to collect printer cartridges and old cell phones. The huge number of new boxes at the University is a major shot-in-the-arm.
And Pringle says it’s necessary, because food bank usage is up – and students are turning to food aid.
“ We’re concerned with the increasing numbers of students coming to the food bank. The percentage of students using it has doubled in the past year,” Pringle says.
USSU Volunteer Centre Director Melissa Cotton says the three-year-old student-run campus food centre is a partnership with the food bank that the students’ union sees as “another way to help students”.
“Based on our demand, every Tuesday and Thursday the food bank sends hampers.” Cotton says the current rate is 15-20 hampers per month “and climbing”.
“We will definitely see the benefits of this project,” she says.
thINK FOOD Project Development Co-ordinator Carolina Budiman says in its three years the national program has diverted more than 225,000 printer cartridges and 27,000 cell phones from landfills, raising more than $335,000 for food banks.
Budiman says 49 universities and colleges across Canada are involved with thINK FOOD, but the U of S project is one of the most comprehensive and well-organized.
thINK FOOD estimates more than 30 million ink-jet cartridges are used in Canada each year and fewer than 10 per cent are recycled. It also says 300 million ink-jet and laser toner cartridges go into landfills across North America each year.
Lester says a side-benefit of the cartridge-collection project is that it will be a high-visibility project to help raise awareness of environmental issues with the campus community.
This will be the first part of a larger, longer-term initiative “to do business in an environmentally conscious manner.”