Cartridge reuse is key to printers’ green credentials 

Written by: Laura Heywood | Published:

Affordability has made the printer a throwaway item for many consumers, a situation that is encouraged by manufacturers that programme their machines to stop working after a certain period and put chips in cartridges that waste masses of ink. Laura Heywood of the UK Cartridge Remanufacturers Association reports

In the 1980s, when a printer was released on the market it lasted for years. It was expensive and the cartridges were pricey too, so there were fewer of them. At one time, one toner cartridge manufacturer boasted 85% of the market. Today printers

are more easily affordable. And there are more printer manufacturers offering their latest models and, as a result, more cartridges to use in them.

It is important that alternative paths be safeguarded for the reuse industry before a printer or cartridge is deemed to be waste.

New models are released so quickly that it’s hard to understand what the subtle change is from the previous model – maybe a bit quicker and a different colour casing or more colour pixels. Today most printers are seen as throwaway items.

There are cases where a printer manufacturer sets the printer to last for a specific period. One printer manufacturer programmed its software so that after a pre-set number of pages, the printer would stop with a prompt stating ‘Service’. It meant taking the printer to the dealer repair centre, where the printer page count would be zeroed out, the ink pad changed – for a fee, of course – and it would function again.

This type of technology is finding its way more and more into printers and their consumables. In cartridges a smart chip (microchip) is attached and it determines when it is time to replace the cartridge. Toner and inkjet remanufacturers and refillers, more times than not, find there is still a substantial amount of toner or ink in the supply hopper.

The user could have printed up to hundreds of more pages before needing to purchase a new cartridge, and the higher amount of wastage is more costly to recycle. In the old days a toner would run till it was dry. Remember shaking it from side to side to make the most of that last bit of toner? Smart chips can be programmed now to be reset and there are one or two chip re-setters available, but not all can be reset as the encryption in them is so difficult.

There are international product standards such as EPEAT’s IEEE 1680.2 (an independent product rating system) including required criteria that state a non-original cartridge must be able to function in the product.

Before the EU’s WEEE Directive was first released, a clause was introduced that a product must be designed to be reused. There was a heated discussion that it shouldn’t be included, but it was narrowly voted in and initially titled Article 4. It is probably one of the most important clauses in the entire Directive.

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Fact file:

  • Remanufactured cartridge vs. OEM (original): 60% savings in CO2
  • 65% savings in embodied water
  • The UK remanufactures 6.06m cartridges per year, comprised of approximately 2.61 million laser cartridges and 3.45 million inkjet cartridges
  • The UK collects via cartridge collectors, etc. around 11.5m cartridges per year, which is about 45% of the total cartridges sold. About 40% of cartridges sold in the UK are not suitable for remanufacturing because they are clones (new-build non-OEM: copies of the original) with no internal components available to remanufacture them, counterfeits, or are patent-infringing. Other reasons include scarcity of used cores (empties) due to cartridge manufacturers aggressively keeping them from entering the reuse channel, or smart chips are too encrypted to reset

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