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Community Waste Prevention Toolkit: Toner Cartridge Fact Sheet

Re-Charge! Preventing Toner Cartridge Waste

Each year, millions of empty toner and inkjet cartridges used in laser printers, fax machines, and copiers are thrown in the trash, destined for landfills and incinerators. Buying locally remanufactured toner and inkjet cartridges — and recycling empty cartridges — is an easy way for government agencies and public institutions to reduce the environmental impact of these discarded products, while also saving substantial tax dollars and bolstering the local economy.

Any office equipment that uses a toner cartridge, as opposed to requiring toner to be added to the machine, should be able to use remanufactured cartridges.

This fact sheet provides guidance on buying remanufactured toner cartridges, as well as some related strategies for minimizing waste and pollution from these and other printing supplies.

  • Advantages of Using Remanufactured Cartridges
  • How to Structure a Bid Solicitation for High-Quality Remanufactured Toner Cartridges
  • Preventing Toner Cartridge Waste (and Saving Paper)
  • Locating Cartridge Remanufacturers in Your Area
  • Additional Information
  • Notes

Advantages of Using Remanufactured Cartridges

Remanufacturers inspect empty cartridges for damage and then repair or replace broken parts, thoroughly clean the reusable components, and refill the cartridge with new toner. Using remanufactured cartridges has significant economic and environmental advantages:

Remanufactured cartridges save money. Recycled cartridges are from 30 to 60 percent less expensive on a cost per copy basis.(1) King County, Washington, procured its remanufactured toner cartridges through a long-term contract at about a third the price of new, saving $350,000 on 4000 units.(2)
Remanufactured cartridges create jobs. Purchasing remanufactured toner and inkjet cartridges and recycling the empties are two ways to create jobs and strengthen the local economy. In 1998, there were more than 6000 remanufacturers in the US, most of which were locally owned businesses.(3)
Remanufactured cartridges save energy. Approximately three quarts of oil are burned in the production of a single new toner cartridge. A used cartridge can be remanufactured up to four times, depending on type and condition, saving up to three quarts of fuel each time.(4)
Remanufacturing minimizes waste. Remanufacturing cartridges decreases the amount of plastic, steel, aluminum, and rubber sent to landfills and burned in incinerators. According to Recharger Magazine, cartridge remanufacturing reduced municipal solid waste by almost 38,000 tons in 1998.(5)

How to Structure a Bid Solicitation for High-Quality Remanufactured Toner Cartridges

Remanufacturing toner cartridges is a well-established technology. An estimated 24 million remanufactured cartridges sold in 1998.(6) According to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ central purchasing department, “the quality of remanufactured and/or recharged laser printer toner cartridges has improved dramatically since these products were first introduced more than ten years ago.”(7) However, it is wise to test products from new companies before buying in bulk or signing a long-term contract with the vendor. Also, don’t wait to buy cartridges until you run out, which may leave you without enough time to order a remanufactured product.

Below are some suggestions for purchasers on how they can contract for high-quality remanufactured cartridges.

1. Require certification that each cartridge purchased has been fully refurbished, not “drilled and filled.”

While most remanufacturers are reliable and provide quality cartridges that meet or exceed the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) standards, it is important to write specifications to disqualify companies that simply drill a hole in the side of the cartridge and refill it with toner, failing to clean and repair broken parts. Cartridges refurbished by drill-and-fill methods may not perform as well as cartridges that are disassembled, cleaned, repaired, and refilled. King County, Washington, has developed a list of technical specifications to ensure that only high-performance remanufactured toner cartridges are procured.

2. Contract for cartridge remanufacturing services instead of simply buying refurbished cartridges.

Select a firm that facilitates collection of empty cartridges and exchanges them for high-quality remanufactured products. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts requires contractors to “take back all used cartridges for remanufacturing and/or recycling and often provide a credit back to the customer depending on the type of cartridge returned.”

Most cartridge refurbishers are local businesses; some are nonprofit companies that employ disabled people in a workshop setting. (Some states and localities procure remanufactured laser toner cartridges to these companies under “set aside” programs.) Many of these firms maintain their supply of used cartridges by providing a range of services and incentives for customers. Such companies may:

  • Purchase spent cartridges.
  • Offer a tax deduction (to businesses and individuals) for turned-in cartridges.
  • Offer discounts on “new” remanufactured cartridges when empties are returned.
  • Offer free pickup and delivery for large orders.
  • Set up regular collection programs for major customers.
  • Reuse and recycle packaging.
  • Offer related services such printer, copier, and fax machine repair.
  • Sell other “green” products such as remanufactured computer diskettes, recycled and unbleached paper, or less toxic janitorial supplies.

3. Require a warranty on cartridge performance.

Remanufactured products should meet all OEM standards (e.g., for page yield and print quality). Vendors should guarantee in writing that they will replace any unacceptable cartridges within a reasonable time (e.g., 24 hours) and repair any printer damage (i.e., clean or replace the printer) caused by a faulty cartridge.

4. Avoid toner cartridge manufacturers that offer a “prebate.”

A prebate is a rebate that may prevent you from sending empty cartridges to a remanufacturer.

5. Make sure the laser printers you buy will work with remanufactured toner cartridges, and that their use will not void a printer’s warranty.

Hewlett-Packard’s warranty states, for example, that “for HP printer products, the use of a non-HP toner cartridge does not affect the warranty to the customer or any HP support with the customer.”

Preventing Toner Cartridge Waste (and Saving Paper)

Printing efficiently extends the life of the toner cartridges you buy and conserves trees.

  • Print only when you need a hard copy. Save e-mails and other documents on your hard drive or on a diskette, and read on-line or on-screen.
  • Set printer default settings to “draft.” This may be described as the “faster printing” or “economy” mode. Use the highest-quality printing setting only for final copies.
  • Avoid using shaded boxes and large font sizes.
  • For archived hard copies, print two or more document pages per sheet. Check your manual to find out if your computer has this capability.
  • Eliminate fax and printer confirmation sheets.
  • Use a fax-modem program to direct faxes to your computer instead of to the fax machine. Faxes can be archived and searched on your computer, and are easy to redirect.

Locating Cartridge Remanufacturers in Your Area

Check the Yellow Pages under headings such as Office Supplies, Copiers and Supplies, Computers — Supplies and Parts, and Laser Printers — Equipment and Services. On the web, use key words such as “remanufactured” or “recycled” plus “toner cartridge,” along with the name of your city or state.

For links to regional associations of established and reputable cartridge remanufacturing firms, see Recharger Magazine’s web site at

Additional Information

For detailed purchasing and technical specifications, see “Laser Printer Toner Cartridges, Remanufactured,” at the King County, Washington, Environmental Purchasing Program web site. Also see “Product Information: Toner Cartridges, Laser Printer (Remanufactured),” at the Massachusetts Environmentally Preferable Products Procurement Program web site at

Minnesota’s environmentally preferable purchasing guidelines for toner cartridges are available at


1 “Toner Cartridges,” The Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Guide, Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, December 2000,

2 ” “Laser Printer Toner Cartridges, Remanufactured,” King County, Washington, Environmental Purchasing Program, December 2000.

3 “1998 Market Analysis,” Recharger Magazine, September 1998.

4 “Why Buy Remanufactured?” Recharger Magazine, December 2000,

5 “1998 Market Analysis,” Recharger Magazine.

6 Ibid.

7 “Product Information: Toner Cartridges, Laser Printer (Remanufactured),” Commonwealth of Massachusetts Environmentally Preferable Products Procurement Program,

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