Sustainable innovation: How Lexmark reduced the use of new plastic by millions of pounds

team

By Gustavo Sepulveda

Plastics are part of our everyday lives, but what the Lexmark team in Juarez, Mexico, has done with plastics is not an everyday thing. Since 2010, the Juarez team has reintroduced more than 5 million pounds of recycled plastic into new parts for Lexmark supplies. That’s more than 125 truckloads of plastic!

Here’s how they did it.

Empty cartridges returned by customers through the Lexmark Cartridge Collection Program (LCCP) are evaluated for potential reuse or remanufacturing. Those that don’t pass the test are sent to be recycled.

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The Juarez team recognized that the much of that material contained the same plastic required to produce new supplies. And they thought — how can we recover the plastic ourselves to deliver sustainability and cost benefits?

Late in 2010, after an extensive validation process supported by the Supplies Product Engineering team in Lexington, some supplies components began to be molded with plastic including a 25 percent blend of this recovered, post-consumer recycled (PCR) plastic. Initially, an external vendor was hired to recompound and extrude the recovered material before its use.

As additional types and greater quantities of plastics were recovered and confidence grew in the rigorous controls and procedures in place to ensure high-quality PCR, the Product Engineering team supported an increase of up to 50 percent PCR content in some components. This increased volume caused the team to explore alternatives to bring the process in-house.

In 2015, the Juarez in-house extrusion process began — and paid for itself in less than one year.

The next challenge was to increase the PCR use to 100 percent for some parts. In order to use a 100-percent PCR material, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) had to certify the safety of the material. The Lexmark team initiated the process in mid-2015, and achieved certification in 2016. It was the first time that UL had certified an in-house 100 percent recycled resin.

“I’m very proud of this team,” said Leea Haarz, general manager, Lexmark Juarez. “They recognized an opportunity to benefit Lexmark, our customers and the environment, and relentlessly pursued it until they reached their goals.”

Today, there are 27 components produced with up to 100 percent closed-loop PCR plastic. This saves money and protects the environment, reducing product cost by $1 million annually, and lowering plastic production by more than 1 million pounds per year.

“Congratulations to the Juarez team for this tremendous contribution to Lexmark’s sustainability leadership, furthering our global competitive advantage with the use of PCR while demonstrating the business value of the circular economy,” said John Gagel, global senior manager, corporate sustainability.

“Protecting the environment is important not only to Lexmark but also to our customers,” said Lexmark President and CEO Dave Reeder. “Lexmark is consistently recognized around the globe for our sustainability leadership, and our customers cite this commitment as a key factor in doing business with us.

“We appreciate the efforts of the Juarez team to further strengthen our leadership position,” Reeder said.

Visit Lexmark’s Global Citizenship website to learn more about our focus on recyclable materials.