Staples Ink Recycling & How to Get Hundreds Worth of Free Stuff Every Year

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Staples Ink Recycling Guide

Staples Ink Recycling Guide

Yesterday in my post “My Plans for Today Involve Home Depot & Staples – Here is Why“, I talked about a number of money saving strategies I was employing during visits to Home Depot & Staples. One of the things I mentioned was recycling my monthly 20 ink cartridges.

In the comments of yesterday’s post several people asked how I go through so much Ink. The truth is that I don’t, but it doesn’t stop me from maxing out my ink recycling limit every month. All three of the major office supply stores have ink recycling programs, but I only really use Staples.

Staples Ink Recycling Basics

In an effort to provide value to you, I thought I would go over the basics of Staples ink recycling. Here is what you need to know:

  • You must purchase at least $30 in ink every 180 days.
  • Normal Staples Rewards members are able to recycle 10 cartridges per month at $2 each.
  • Plus & Premier members can recycle 20 cartridges per month.
Staples Ink Recycling Guide
This cartridge would qualify you for 6 months of ink recycling.

Buy Ink Cartridges on eBay

You can buy used ink cartridges for about $.10 each on eBay. You may be able to do better than that, but I found several lots of ink at that price. So lets assume that is your cost.

Remember it is possible to earn 5x on all eBay purchases if you want plus 2% eBay Bucks.

A Good Strategy

Purchase $30 worth of ink from Staples every 6 months. Since there is tax and stuff, lets say you spend $35 every six months or $70 per year on ink.

Hopefully you actually need this ink, but you could always sell it on eBay. I’m going to assume you sell it on eBay for a 20% loss. So your loss is $14 on the ink every year. (This number is based on my experience.)

If you are a regular member you can recycle 120 cartridges per year (10 per month) and receive $240 in rewards. Your cost for this would be:

  • Loss on ink purchases: $14
  • Cost of recycled cartridges: $12
  • Total cost: $26

So you paid a grand total of $26 for $240 in rewards. What a great deal! Of course spouses can both participate which doubles the rewards.

Plus or Premier Is Better

Staples Ink Recycling Guide

Plus & Premier members can earn $480 in rewards for the cost of $36. Wow! Of course you must spend at least $500 per year at Staples to reach the Plus level, but buying and reselling a few items may be worth it to get to that level.

How to Recycle

Recycling your ink cartridges is very easy. You can simply go into your local store and head straight to the cashier. They will ask for your rewards or phone number, take the cartridges and give you a receipt.

Staples has also recently added the ability to recycle online. To do this, login to your account and select that option. When redeeming online they cover the cost of shipping. You must ship a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 10 cartridges per box.

Staples Ink Recycling Guide

Staples Rewards Caution

  • Staples Rewards used to be good for up to 6 months, but now they expire at the end of the month after they are issued. So lets say you recycle 10 cartridges in April. The rewards will be issued on May 15 and will expire on June 30.
  • If you order online with Staples Rewards and try to return in store, it will be a mess since the store has no way to reissue the rewards. If ordering online make sure to return online.
  • Keep up on your ink purchases. If you don’t have qualifying purchases of $30 in the past 180 days they will still take your ink, however you won’t earn any rewards. Thankfully the Staples site has recently been updated and it is easier than ever to see your purchases.
  • If two people in the same household have Staples Rewards accounts, never co-mingle rewards on the same transaction. This has been known to cause Staples to merge the two accounts into one.

What to Buy

Staples Ink Recycling Guide
When all else fails, buy toilet paper!

Think you already have every possible electronic device you could possibly want? Well Staples sells cleaning supplies, household products and so much more. I recently upgraded my entire home to LED lighting thanks to Staples Rewards and don’t get me started on how much toilet paper I have in my garage!


Yes Staples ink recycling is not as good as it seems on the surface, but it really can be lucrative if you go about it the right way. Do you play the ink recycling game? Do you recycle at the other office supply stores? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Miles to Memories operates under the Value for Value model. If you receive value from this site, find out how you can provide value back.
Shawn Coomer
Shawn Coomer
Shawn Coomer earns and burns millions of miles/points per year circling the globe with his family. An expert at accumulating travel rewards, he founded Miles to Memories to help others achieve their travel goals for pennies on the dollar. Shawn also runs a million dollar reselling business, knows Vegas better than most and loves to spend his time at the 12 Disney parks across the world.

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  1. At Office Max I got $0.01 per cartridge return. Only took 10 ea. I was a member. Needless to say I won’t be going back there for recycling.

  2. I have returned on two separate occasions 18 used cartridges and was never informed that the the policy had changed. Expecting to receive a voucher or gift card by mail as in the past, when I inquired at Staples was told it must have expired. No one took the time to explain that the policy had changed. So just recently returned another 18 cartridges in May and sales rep told me that in June would receive a credit by E-mail. At the end of June revisited another staples store and that rep explained that needed 20 to receive credit. What a scam, from now on I will be disposing of used cartridges instead of receiving non existent rewards. I expect a credit of seventy two dollars for those cartridges.

  3. Staples rewards do not count on gift cards or shipping. Everything else in store is free game. Also for your $30 worth of ink, you must purchase it IN STORE. If you purchase it online, you get no rewards.

  4. Does the $500 required spending for premier status apply to anything in the store? Do online purchases apply to that?

  5. I have (had) a longtime recycling program for my chorus. Initially, it did not require an ink purchase, and I was able to get the $20 reward every month.

    After it changed, I bought some ink and took in the 10 allowed cartridges, but I never received the Reward, so figured they weren’t doing it anymore.

    Would like to know why I didn’t get the expected reward.

    • No, Ink brand is not a concern. They usually don’t even count/inspect the messy inks you bring in. I just tell them how many (20) and they take my box and input credit. Easy-peasy.

  6. Did anyone run into this problem?
    I was denied the reward because I bought the ink through’

    The response from staples support:
    In order to receive your recycling coupons you must make a $30 purchase worth of ink in the store.

  7. For those of us far from staples, would pairing the $30 bi-annual ink spend with a VGC negate this program (ie free shipping on ink/VGC from and do this program all from home?

  8. When recycling ink through Staples does it have to be a major brand (HP, Epson,Brother, etc.) or will they accept generic cartridges as well? I’m referring to non-OEM ink such as you might buy at low cost on eBay as “compatible” with certain specific printers. I don’t use often use that type any more but I have a box full of old Epson Artisan compatible empties.

  9. Hi Shawn — this remains a wonderful post and thread, one that continues to be so helpful and current, two and a half years later. Two years ago, “Nanu” asked, “Can the $30 of ink be purchased with the Staples rewards that were issued by recycling the cartridges?” Answer (no) was helpful.

    Yet how about if we pay for the $30 of ink by using a Staples gift card? (such as one earned as a rebates from a gc purchase) Or would that be deemed a “reward redemption?”

  10. Ok guess I don’t understand or am doing something wrong. I have been returning empty ink cartridges to staples, get a receipt and yet never see the coupon come to my email? I asked the staples sales person but they could not give me an answer. I do have the staples rewards card! What’s up?

  11. I have been doing the ink recycling at Staples for several years now. It saves me tons of money. I buy all my toilet paper and paper towels through Staples. I also found it easy to get to plus status each year. You can buy the rebate items which count towards your $500 each year and they send you your money back in the rebate which is even more free stuff from Staples. Needless to say I love Staples.

  12. Can the $30 of ink be purchased with the Staples rewards that were issued by recycling the cartridges?
    Obviously this won’t help for the first $30 purchase of ink, but it will for any subsequent purchase 6 months later.

    • NO! I did this a few months ago and didn’t think anything of it. I contacted Customer Service just now because I wasn’t receiving my $20 Ink Recycling Rewards and they pointed me to the fine print saying the $30 of ink purchases is net of coupons and rewards.
      “Ink and/or toner purchases made on the date of recycling are calculated toward minimum purchase requirement is net of coupons, taxes, rewards redemptions, and shipping charges.”

    • To be honest I haven’t spent too much time looking. I just buy a HP 21 twin pack for $30.99. It usually resells for about $20. I lose $10, but more than make up for it. I’m sure I could do better by searching around, but buying ink at Staples is definitely not the best deal.

      • Smiled/winced a bit when I came across this post (from five years ago) Price of HP21 twin pack ha gone up over 50% since then. ($46 or so) Reminds me though that I have been noticing massive price jumps in HP ink at Staples this past year. (making Staples “definitely” not the place — ordinarily — to buy HP ink — even as prices for ink on ebay generally have been dropping hard…. Has me all the more wondering just what ink to buy/sell for this strategy…

        One new intriguing development…. Even Staples now sells (on line) remanufactured ink, until the “true red” product line…. and the equivalent 2 pack for HP21 sells for (tah dah) just over $30…. (and I do see what appears to be a market for the “true red” ink on ebay. (suspect it might even be an arm of Staples selling there…)

        Two questions — somebody a few years ago suggested that on-line ink purchases don’t count. (is that true?) Second, if they do, have I missed any exclusions about re-manufactured ink?

  13. Hey Shawn,
    Went to staples today and signed up for Rewards. I told them I was a teacher and they automatically bumbed me to 20 cartridges. I pulled out my teacher ID but the rep said it wasn’t necessary. They signed me up for Staples Rewards for Teachers and although under that category it doesn’t say “Double the Ink recycling limit” the rep assured me that indeed teachers do qualify for 20 cartridges per month. I’ll try it out and report back.

  14. Shawn,

    How about if I make initial purchase of $30 in ink…recycle some that I bought from eBay….and return the $30 ink that I bought within 30 days window for refund at Staples?

  15. Never combine rewards from different accounts when redeeming. If you do they will merge the accounts, effectively closing one account. You have been warned!

  16. Great job with your blog. I am a newer reader and am really enjoying it.

    Quick question…

    Can spouses register their Staples Rewards account with the same address?

    I ask because a lot of the easy rebates are per household and I was wondering if this carried over to ink recycling and rewards. Apparently not, but I’d rather be safe than sorry.

    • Good question. I haven’t had any issues using the same address. Just to make sure I dug into their terms and this is all I could find:

      “This Program is available to Staples® customers 18 years of age or older with a valid U.S. mailing address and a valid email address. To receive Rewards or Recycling Rewards, the Program member (“Member”) number must be in good standing.”

      • Under the “Ink and Toner Recycling Rewards” section:

        “Limit one Staples Rewards account per person or at any mailing address. Additional accounts will be canceled. Ink resellers and remanufacturers are strictly prohibited from earning Ink Recycling Rewards”

        • Thanks for finding that. I guess I have been lucky, but the prudent thing for a couple to do would be to use two different mailing addresses. Perhaps a work and a home address. Thanks Scott!

  17. Very interesting Shawn. Perhaps you covered this in another post, but at least in my area, the normal $2 cash back on ink cartridges is up to $6 — though limited to just 3, and only if you buy $60 in ink same day. (which no longer seems as compelling to me as it used to, given that I can get off-brank ink much cheaper elsewhere) Like your strategy though… maybe this could combine with it?

    • I actually use a Brother as my primary printer. The toners for it cost $60 at Staples or I can purchase third party toners for about $10. For this reason my goal is to purchase as close to $30 every 6 months and then resell it. Those increased deals usually require $60 or more, so that doesn’t appeal to me. Plus if you are getting $6 per cartridge up to 3 cartridges, then they are basically giving you $12 extra in rewards which doesn’t justify the extra $30 spent on ink.

  18. Why not buy free after rebate items or items to resell?

    I was about to start recycling through Staples, can you buy gift cards with Staples Rewards?

    Great post!

    • You could definitely do FAR as well, although except for paper, I am finding there are less and less of those lately. Gift cards will not work since Rewards are treated like coupons and coupons don’t work on gift cards. I haven’t tried in awhile, but once upon a time (over a year ago) I tried to purchase an Amazon gift card and the system wouldn’t allow it.

  19. Make sure to make your first ink purchase before you start recycling. I thought as long as I paid $30 for ink within 180 days, I could use the ink rewards I started recycling. I wasted 2 months worth of ink recycling. 🙁

  20. Where are you able to find the cartridges on ebay for <$0.1 each? The cheapest I found was $0.5 factoring in shipping cost.

  21. Thanks for the info. Does the purchase of Gift Cards count towards the $30 required or the $500 for the Plus level?


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