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Evaluating The Environmental Impact Of Ink Cartridges

2012-01-05

Using an environmentally friendly cartridge for printer needs will reduce both oil consumption and the carbon footprint. Every year, over 350 million empty ink cartridges end up in landfills across the U.S. The environmental impact of these printer cartridges is two-fold.

First, printer ink cartridges are made from non-biodegradable, polymer plastic that takes as long as 1,000 years to decompose. That entire time, they're contributing to greenhouse gas emissions that many scientists believe are causing a permanent change in the planet's weather cycles. Additionally, the decomposing cartridges release toxic compounds into the air, soil and water.

Second, it takes 2.5 gallons of oil to manufacture the plastic used in one laser printer cartridge. The demand for printer cartridges keeps on rising as an estimated 220 million printers in homes and businesses across the nation continue to churn out an escalating volume of printed pages. If even half the cartridges that are now dumped in landfills were to be recycled, researchers estimate that 15 million gallons of oil could be saved every year.

Printer Cartridges and Oil Consumption

Plastics are made from nonrenewable resources like oil, gas and coal. Scientists recombine the molecules in these carbon-rich raw materials into a huge number of chemically inert plastics. Approximately 2.5 ounces of oil goes into the manufacture of every inkjet printer cartridge, but as much as 3.5 gallons of oil go into every laser printer cartridge. Some experts say as much as 10 percent of the foreign oil imported into the United States comes into this country in the form of printer cartridges and other plastic accessories.

Printer Cartridges and Greenhouse Gases

When plastic objects like printer cartridges end up in landfills, they degrade very slowly, releasing dangerous toxins into the groundwater and soil. Many of these chemicals find their way into the bodies of animals, including humans, affecting a wide range of biological processes in adverse ways. When these plastics finally do begin to break down, they release carbon dioxide and methane, heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

Of course, greenhouse gases aren't bad, per se. Without them, the surface of the Earth would be too cold for life to exist. But many scientists believe that the composite effect of the greenhouse gases, produced in the last 250 years as a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution, are causing the planet to warm up too quickly. This can lead to phenomena like melting ice caps, rising sea levels and hurricanes, tornados and other extreme weather conditions.

Reusing ink cartridges may seem like a small thing to do, but it has an effect. Using a refurbished, environmentally friendly cartridge instead of a new one helps preserve the environment.

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