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Printer Remanufacturers Find Low Reuse, Recycling Rates of Cartridges

Less than half of all printer cartridges are recycled or reused even once by offices in the U.K. and U.S., according to new research by InfoTrends, even though most manufacturers have recycling programs in place.

The report, "2007 Supplies Recycling: U.S. and Europe," finds that cartridge manufacturers and third party vendors are both vying to collect depleted printer supplies: manufacturers want to recycle the products to meet environmental goals, and third party suppliers will refill and resell the cartridges. Despite the competition, at least half of all printer cartridges end up in the landfill, sometimes after only one use.

Many of the major printer manufacturers have recycling programs to deal with the depleted cartridges. Hewlett-Packard, Konica Minolta, Canon, Xerox and Lexmark all offer at least some recycling of their cartridges. There are a range of companies that remanufacture old cartridges, refilling and reselling used cartridges.

Nonetheless, the report finds that even remanufacturing companies often do not recycle the unusable cartridges, whether because the empties are damaged and unusable or simple have little resale value. Only half of Europe's remanufactured laser cartridges and 30 percent of remanufactured inkjet cartridges are recycled, and the numbers are even lower in the U.S, where only 10 percent of laser cartridges and almost no inkjet cartridges get recycled.

Despite findings from the report that most remanufacturers say they would like to deal with unused cartridges in environmentally friendly ways, both the higher cost and relative lack of recycling systems, as well as a strong preference for "virgin empties" -- cartridges that have not yet been reused -- means that as much as 86 percent of cartridges are thrown away instead of recycled.

The market for used cartridges is a growing one: the report notes that Lexmark and Xerox are two of the major manufacturers who most recognize the potential for reuse rather than recycling. Remanufacturing, whether by the original manufacturers or third party companies, is able to reduce the demand for new cartridges by about 20 percent, the report finds, and remanufacturers collect 70 percent more empty toner cartridges and 700 percent more empty inkjet cartridges than the original manufacturers do.

More information on the report is available from InfoTrends' website.

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