EYE ON THE ENVIRONMENT | “DRILL AND FILL” SERVICE ENDS; PRINTER CARTRIDGE REMANUFACTURING REMAINS
by David Goldstein, VC, PWA, IWMD
Last month, when Costco closed in-store photo shops, taking the company’s photo development business entirely online, Ventura County also lost an important environmental service: Those photo shops were the last local options for printer ink refill services. A year ago, Walgreens also discontinued printer recharge service.
You can still refill your own inkjet printer cartridges, however, by buying a refill kit online or at an office supply store. It costs less than half the price of a new cartridge, but working with printer ink can be messy. When I tried it without disposable gloves, I ended up with ink all over my hands. Another problem is finding the fill hole. Rubbing a finger on the label is recommended, but some cartridges have more than one hole; only one leads to a sponge-covered ink tank, which must be penetrated with the filler needle.
Rather than refilling, remanufacturing services provide a more common method for saving money and resources through cartridge reuse. Remanufacturing involves disassembly, temperature control to avoid drying of ink, replacement of damaged parts, replacement of smart chips, refilling to precise levels, matching ink formulas to cartridge types, pressure adjustments, sealing to prevent leakage, testing to ensure yield will be comparable to original products, and packaging in a vapor-resistant box.
A remanufactured cartridge costs about three quarters the cost of a new cartridge, and remanufacturers provide additional discounts in exchange for used cartridges. For example, through their website, doorstepinkrecycle.com, Planet Green in Chatsworth (www.planetgreenrecycle.com) sends shipping labels providing free postage to anyone sending them four or more cartridges at a time. The company offers those who mail them cartridges an additional 20% discount on the purchase of remanufactured cartridges.
Not all cartridges can be remanufactured, however. Sean Levi, CEO of Planet Green, warns, “Increasingly, cheap knock-off cartridges, usually listed as ‘compatible’ with a name brand, are actually single-use, imported pieces of junk that can’t be refilled with ink.” If you want a discount from the name brand retail price, “but you still want top quality performance,” he recommends, “go with a ‘remanufactured’ iteration of the name brand, not one labeled ‘compatible.’”
Rather than offer a discount on the purchase of remanufactured cartridges, a few companies pay for certain empty cartridges mailed in sufficient quantity. Recycling Advantage (advantagecartridge.com), in Indiana but operating online and through mail-in, buys empty inkjet cartridges at prices ranging from five cents for an HP 58 to $5 for an HP 15. Payment requires a minimum transaction of 25 cartridges or $50 of cartridges, as specified in the online price list. To reach minimums, participation works best as a fundraiser, an option also available by special arrangement with Planet Green and others.
Unused cartridges from surplus or liquidation, still in their sealed bags, have far more value. If you switch printers, but still have unused cartridges in sealed bags, contact a company like Galaxy Surplus in Ojai (www.galaxysurplus.com). Inkjet cartridges retain value for only three years, but laser toner cartridges have no expiration dates.
Recycling is an alternative to both refilling and recharging, and some large retailers offer discounts in exchange for recycling cartridges. Staples gives a store coupon for $2 in exchange for each cartridge, allowing up to 10 cartridges per month. However, to use the credit, you must first spend $30 on ink or toner within six months. You can bring cartridges to the register of your local Staples store or request a shipping label for mail-in.
Office Depot similarly offers a credit of $2 per cartridge, requiring only a $10 qualifying purchase, although it must be in the same month. Best Buy offers a $2 savings on your next ink purchase of $40 or more or your next toner purchase of $100.
These companies recycle the plastic and metal of cartridges into new products, keeping the ink and other components out of landfills. Reuse is generally regarded as a higher environmental priority, however, because it conserves more energy and resources.
David Goldstein, Resource Analyst with Ventura County Public Works, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805-658-4312 or followed on Twitter @EyeOnTheEnviron