Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Recycling Ink Cartridges for Money

Update 5/8/13 - I just recycled my first 10 cartridges today to officemax.  I bought 2 $25 amazon gift cards because they are on sale for $45 (10% off) until 5/11 - page 1 of the circular.  I will update when I find out if the amazon purchases count towards my rewards.  I assume they will not.

Update 5/2/13 - The credit, for Staples at least, tends to post to your account the 15th or 16th of the following month.  Thanks again SW.

One of my readers, Shmuel Winiarz, came up with a way of getting free stuff at office supply stores and has already put it into practice.  Similar to just about everything else on this blog, there is rarely an actual free lunch.  You have to be willing to put in some effort to make it work.

I haven't tried this myself yet, but I am excited to give it a go!

Here's how it goes:

As an incentive to recycle ink cartridges, Office Depot, Office Max and Staples will give you $2 per cartridge you bring in for recycling, up to 10 cartridges ($20) a month.  These are rewards towards anything in the store that isn't a cash equivalent (no gift cards or prepaid cards).

What if you can buy cartridges for less than the office supply stores give you to recycle them?  Well, you can and for significantly less too.  Let's learn more!

Right now, you can buy 300 empty ink cartridges on ebay for $60, or $0.20 a cartridge.  If this one is sold out, just search "empty ink cartridges" from and a different good deal will come up.  These cartridges are worth $2 so you are netting $1.80 per cartridge!

Keep in mind that you don't get your gift certificate on the spot.  At the end of the month, the store starts processing your rewards and you will get your rewards a different time.

The Catch

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is not all fun and games and someone may get hurt.  There are a few things you need to be aware of with each store.

  • Office Max - You need to spend as much in office max as you earn.  For example, if you bring in 10 cartridges last month, but only spend $8 at office max you will get $8 in rewards, not the full $20.  The $12 of rewards will be pending until you spend $12 more in office max or until January 1st when the rewards disappear.    
    • You can't buy gift cards, computers or stamps towards your minimum spending to unlock your rewards
    • If you go to office max occasionally anyway, this is the way to go.  If you don't, staples is probably the best move.
  • Office Depot - same catch as Office Max.
  • Staples - You need to have spent at least $30 on ink and toner within the last 180 days (around 6 months) to be eligible.  
    • If we assume you will make $1.80 per cartridge and recycle 10 cartridges per month you will have netted $18 a month.  After 6 months, you will have $108 towards Staples products, but you have paid $30 towards ink so a net of $78 or $13 a month.
    • If you are planning on buying ink from staples anyway, this is a great deal.

Leveraging the Payout

It's hard to know the best way to spend the money.  Most likely gift cards are out, but maybe stamps won't be?  Probably the easiest way to get the full money back is to buy "free after rebate" items.  You will have spent the gift certificates, but you get cash back later.

Have you done this too?  Found a way to leverage this deal even better?  Comment and everyone gains.