Recycler turns components into pens

A Kentucky recycler of Lexmark International's inkjet cartridges has come up with a novel way to reduce waste: Convert the ink and the cartridges themselves into ink pens.

During the past 18 months, Close the Loop, which operates in Hebron, in Northern Kentucky, has worked with Lexmark to develop the writing tool with the goal of taking it to market by mid-2010.

Close the Loop, which also operates in Australia, is hired by printer companies to recycle inkjet and toner cartridges and other materials. The company sorts the used cartridges and separates them into component parts like plastics, metals, foams and ink for recycling. But ink had posed a problem.

"We had been storing the ink thinking there had to be ways we could make this ink usable," said Jim Tocash, vice president and general manager of North America for Close the Loop.

One day, the company's leader asked whether it could be used in a pen. Printer cartridges are an amalgamation of colors, so the initial thought was no, but they tested it.

It worked, so the company set out to determine how to use not just the ink but also the plastics and metals from the cartridges as the body of the pens.

After months of work, the pen was made of 84 percent recycled content, said John Gagel, manager of sustainable practices, environmental, health and safety for Lexmark. "We're working toward getting it to 100 percent," he said.

Close the Loop is looking for a retail partner for the pen. The design might change as the company is looking for a partner to modify it — "You can turn it into any shape you have a mold for," Tocash said — so retailers will get a product they think can sell.

The company has discussed prices for the pens but declined to disclose them.

"It's not going to be a little 5-cent pen," Tocash said. "It would be more toward a roller ball-type pen price."

Gagel added: "I think we've got a good shot of being widely accepted from those looking for what you can purchase around sustainability."

And while the pens and their revenue are Close the Loop's, "we get the story" and the proof of the company's dedication to the environment, Lexmark's Gagel said.

Recently, Lexmark held a recycling forum for its partners with a goal of bringing them together with product development engineers to ensure that when a product reaches the end of its useful life, "it gives us the best opportunity to give them a new life," Gagel said.

"This is just an indicator of what you can do when you allow yourself to think outside the box and form these partnerships," he said. "You get very creative."