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Environmental Recycling And Printer Ink

2010-05-22

With the boom in the use of electronic devices over the past half century, it has become ever more important that used cell phones, computers, VCR's, and other assorted e-waste be disposed of properly. Even the smaller bits are coming under scrutiny. Every year something like 400 billion printer ink cartridges are thrown out annually. With a reported recycling rate of 5%, it's obvious there is tremendous room for improvement, and there are several ways any user of ink cartridges can lighten his or her burden on the earth with respect to these abundant little items.

First, there is ink cartridge re-use. There are an increasing number of aftermarket companies that provide refill kits of printer ink to the public, enabling the end user to use the same cartridge a number of times, thereby reducing the amount of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC's) released into the environment. Replacement kits can come with eco-friendlier inks (such as low-VOC-formulated inks or water based inks), than the petroleum based ones that come in some original equipment cartridges. Since the printer manufacturer's business model is based on selling cheap printers but charging extravagantly for the ink, they tend to discourage the refilling of their cartridges, sometimes making it explicit that using a refilled cartridge will void the warranty on the machine. It can also be messy, and depending on the ink, even hazardous to the health of the refiller. Still, if care is taken, ink cartridge re-use can avoid the manufacturer's markup on printer ink (~$8000.00/gallon!). Sometimes they incorporate a fuse in each cartridge that when tripped will make the cartridge non-functional. Fortunately, some after-market manufacturers include these in their refill kits.

Another danger posed to the environment by the meager recycling of ink cartridges is the plastic cases. Beyond the fact that kind of solid wastes takes thousands of years to decompose in landfills-since many ink cartridges are manufactured with integrated microcuitry or even small circuit boards on their cases, this adds the toxicity of that kind of e-waste on the environment, in particularly heavy metals. Fortunately, there are quite a few companies dedicated to the safe recycling of electronics in business today, and more springing up. More and more OEM's are paying attention to ink cartridges, and will accept their own products back for recycling ink cartridges and re-use. In addition, the large office supply retail chains have drop-offs sites for recycling ink cartridges, making it increasingly convenient to do.

With further awareness on the part of consumers and OEM's alike of the importance of ink cartridge recycling and re-use, the negative consequences of unrestricted disposal can be neutralized and even reversed. And that's a good thing.

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