What does rethinking plastic at HP mean for its products?

Written by
Jon Kauffman

Purpose, Inc., episode 1.12: Ellen Jackowski, HP

Key takeaway: “Customers are voting with their dollars and they’re saying we want more sustainable products. They really want to see us continue to reinvent for a circular economy.”

In this episode of the Purpose, Inc., podcast, host Michael Young talked to Ellen Jackowski, global head of sustainability, strategy, and innovation at HP, about plastic. “Obviously, HP uses a tremendous amount of that material,” Ellen said—in its printers, gaming products, and 3D printers.

Ellen works with each of HP’s business groups and the company’s markets to integrate sustainability more deeply into the business. The work isn’t just driven by an internal sense of purpose but external demands as well. “We’ve seen increased interest and demand from our customers,” she explains, “as well as, obviously, the critical needs to fight climate change and address the environmental and social issues that we’re all feeling globally.”

Michael and Ellen’s discussion touched on how 3D printing on demand reduces overproduction of plastics, the rise of 3D printing to make PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the rising demand for products with EPEAT certification, a rating system for greener electronics.

But the discussion primarily centered on HP’s four-pronged approach to eliminating, reducing, or recycling plastics:

Eliminate plastics when possible: “When we when we think about our printers, for example, how can we make them smaller or our PCs lighter?” Ellen said. “How can we change the parts to reduce the amount of plastic or to eliminate it where we don’t need it?”

Substitute other materials: The most notable area where HP has made substitutions is packaging, using molded pulp instead of plastic packaging materials.

Use recycled plastic: In situations where HP can’t eliminate or substitute for plastic, the company finds ways to replace virgin plastic with recycled plastic—such as in the new HP Tango Terra, made with 30% recycled plastic. For years now, HP’s Nashville recycling facility has collected ink cartridges that customers return for free, shreds the plastic, then mixes it with shredded bottles to reform new ink cartridges. The facility now recycles 1 million plastic bottles a day.

Source recycled plastic from a location with increased economic and social impact: Taking step three further, HP’s sustainability team has focused on reducing the plastic waste causing the most immediate harm to the environment. That’s how it developed a relationship with Haiti.

Recycling plastic from Haiti

Building off the work of the Nashville recycling plant, in 2016 HP commited to buying recycled plastic from the island nation of Haiti. “We hire collectors across the nation to pick up plastic bottles that have been used before they flow into the ocean,” Ellen said. “We recycle it, shred it, and mix it with other recycled computer and printer parts to create new products.”

“To date, we’ve used over 35 million bottles of ocean-bound plastic, up-cycled into HP products,” she said —display monitors, laptop speakers, mobile workstations, and a new Chromebook, all the first of their kind to use ocean-bound plastic. Divisions across the company have clamored to join the effort. (For another discussion about recycling plastic and the circular economy, listen to Michael’s interview with Tom Szaky of TerraCycle.)

By studying its enterprise RFPs, Ellen’s team has shown that HP’s commitment to sustainability is resonating with clients. “In FY19, we’ve recorded $1.6 billion in revenue that we can attribute in part to our sustainability actions. That’s up almost 70 percent year over year,” she said.

Listen to the full conversation with Ellen Jackowski here:

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