plastic gold: recyclers find profit in printer ink cartridges
More and more schools and non-profit organizations are collecting empty cartridges for recycling from computer printers.
But the drivers of this trend are not just environmental friendliness.
There was an amazing amount of money in these big pieces of plastic, some of which ended up paying for school computers and hunger relief.
What makes cartridges valuable is a strong demand in an emerging industry, where companies are called remanufacturers, many of which are started by entrepreneurs who find niche markets.
These companies have overhauled and refilled inkjet and laser cartridges and sold them to consumers at a much lower price than printer manufacturers charge for new cartridges.
The industry recruited a group of bullet hunters by rewarding schools, charities and other groups to send troops.
One of the largest ink cartridge recycling projects is run by a funded factory that says it has registered 22,000 institutions, most of them schools, which send used ink cartridges and recently also send
Funding factories to provide promotional materials for school funds-
Improve the activities and boxes with prepaid shipping labels that schools can use to send the collected materials to the company.
Participants can log in to www. fundingfactory.
Com tracks the statistics of bonus points and converts them into cash or computers and other school supplies.
Participants said they were satisfied with the simplicity of the project and the funds it generated.
Joy Hogg, technical director of St
Ann School, a parish school in cadillac, Michigan.
She said she has set up an \"inkjet route\" for taking bullets from local banks, sheriff\'s offices, county courts and parish churches \".
\"I didn\'t pay for the freight through any red tape, and the school didn\'t have paperwork,\" she said.
The school received 40 headsets through the funding plant project, each worth about $15.
The simplicity of the advertising program has its price.
The funding plant is a division of Pa Yili ERS imaging supplies.
, A broker who sells the bulk cartridge assembly to the re-manufacturer (www. ers-imaging . com).
Although the funding Factory website did not publish the option, people who are willing to give up free boxes and other conveniences of the program can send their cartridges directly to ERS and get about twice as much money for them.
ERS pays about $4 for inkjet cartridges and up to $20 for some laser cartridges.
David Steffens, senior vice president of ERS and head of the funded plant program, said the difference in the amount paid was partly related to higher costs for running the school program.
For example, he said that the funding plant paid for all shipping and packaging costs, although it was unable to resell a quarter of the cartridges received.
But even recycling, he said.
\"We have introduced a lot of ink cartridges with no market value . \"
\"To a large extent, we ship them back to the original manufacturer\" for recycling, Steffens said.
He said that so far, the program has provided schools with about $3 million in cash and equipment, and may issue another $2 million by the end of the year.
Larger groups can get more from their cartridges by setting up their own programs.
Food for the poor, an international relief organization based in Deerfield Beach, Florida.
, Developed by working with M. B.
Sales, a ink cartridge broker in Canoga Park, California
Enterprises or individuals registered at www. foodforthepoor.
They can be used to collect paid boxes for cartridges.
The box is delivered directly to M. B.
Sales, covering all costs of the project and paying the group up to $22 for laser cartridges and $2 to $4 for inkjets depending on the model.
Glen Belden said that the project started in April and after announcing more in the group\'s newsletter, it now brings thousands of dollars a month, directors of the company, and plans to provide food for the poor.
He said he expects a big expansion as several big companies get involved.
\"You sent me your four laser cartridges and I have been feeding a family of five for a year ,\"Belden said.
\"It is a great awareness builder of environmental awareness.
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The only potential loser in this recycling equation is a printer manufacturer like HP.
Packard often sells printers at low prices, hoping to profit from selling expensive replacement cartridges.
This is a classic razor. and-
\"Blade business model,\" said Jim Forrest, an imaging industry analyst at Lyra Research . \". Cheap blades --or cartridges --
Will dim the gloss of that model.
Many of the major office supply chains now offer cartridges for re-manufacturing and cloning.
The website of Office Depot provides HP-
Packard inkjet models cost $29.
99, while the remade version sold in the name of Office Depot is $21. 99.
Recycling and cloning now account for 16% of the inkjet market, which is expected to nearly double by 2006. Forrest said.
Printer manufacturers add complex features such as ink
Measuring the chip in their cartridges, the manufacturer said it was to make their work harder.
Printer manufacturers consider the modification to be a product improvement.
They also question the quality of the manufacturer\'s products and the sincerity of their environmental protection propaganda.
Advertising by HP spokesman Douglas Vaughan
The re-manufactured cartridges provide customers with more options, \"said Pacard,\" The choice is good.
But he added, \"At the end of the day, the quality you will get from refills or remanufactured cartridges is very low compared to what you get from HP. \'\' Mr.
Vaughan says his company\'s ink is better, and the print head and other parts of cartridges are not designed for reuse. Hewlett-
Packard provides \"take-out service\" for customers\"
Background program for all cartridges.
Sir, the company pays the freight but does not pay for the returned cartridges and does not reuse or refill the cartridgesVaughan said.
Instead, they are broken down into their constituent materials, and about 65% of them can be recycled.
Paying for the cartridges could put the company on antitrust charges of re-manufacturersVaughan said.
But unlike Hewlett
Packard, he said, could no longer guarantee that the returned cartridges would be recycled and not thrown away.
\"There is no endless life for a cartridge,\" he said . \"
\"If a large part of them go to the landfill because it is not reusable, it may make me think twice about whether I want to contribute to this.
\"The cartridge remanufacturer raises objections to these claims regarding quality and degree of recovery.
Ian Elliott, senior vice president of Nu-
Kote International is a large restructuring company based in Ky Basil.
He said the cartridges his company remanufactured were tested on the printer and were fully assured.
He acknowledged that the company had thrown away many cartridges that could not be resold, but said that the company now threw away 10 to 15% cartridges and was working to reduce that number to zero.
For example, it is now working with a company that can grind unused cartridges and turn them into plastic wheels for trash cans.
Most people who donate cartridges for recycling projects may not know that they are handing over materials that bring huge profits to emerging industries-
Products that are generally not popular with the original manufacturer of cartridges.
As the project director of the grass-roots recycling network, David Wood launched a campaign to reduce waste, saying, \"in these emerging recycling sectors, better accountability is needed for what happens to materials.
\"But almost all recycling is good recycling, sir.
Wood said, especially when
The impact of discarded cartridges on the environment is unknown.
The more things we can transfer from landfill, the better, he said.
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A version of this article appears on the July 18, 2002 print edition with the title: plastic gold: recyclers find profits in printer cartridges.