Hewlett-Packard is setting up a recycling program allowing individual consumers to send it empty ink cartridges for recycling.

The program, called Planet Partners, will be in place in the UK early next year but there will be no financial incentive for consumers to return spent cartridges. In fact HP officials are not yet sure whether the company will even subsidize the postage for returned cartridges.

HP's printing and imaging division, which turned over $22bn (£13bn) and sold over two million inkjet printers last year, has set up a recycling plant on mainland Europe - the precise location remains a secret.

Break down This plant is essentially a 'reverse factory': it won't refill or remanufacture cartridges but break them down into component materials, such as metal and plastic, to be used as the raw material for manufacturing other goods.

The onus for disposing of waste electronic goods will fall on the manufacturer or supplier once the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) directive is enacted in UK legislation. Recycling forms a large part of the directive with targets of 6kg of electronic waste per household per year to be recycled by December 5.

HP started its return and recycle programme with laser cartridges in 1991, and already includes 'volume' inkjet cartridges - returns from large companies that use cartridges by the boxful.

"This predates WEEE. We've known we had to do this for 12 years," said Pradeep Jotwani senior vice president for supplies. "This is the last part of our customer base catered for."

HP expects to recycle 17 million inkjet cartridges in 2005.