In an article about printer cartridge recycling and re-use the point was made that re-use was environmentally preferable to recycling and a reference was made to HP over its preference of recycling over re-use. Scott Canonico, HP's Manager of Public Policy, got in touch and sent this message:

"We read with interest your article reporting on InfoTrends' recently published study, 2007 Supplies Recycling: U.S. and Europe. In our view, the study does not support re-manufacturer claims of offering THE environmental choice - and we believe, your presentation of the findings doesn't give OEMs credit for the significant progress made to date.

"While re-manufacturers point to the reduce-reuse-recycle waste hierarchy and claim an environmental advantage based on reusing cartridges, their environmental record speaks otherwise. We note the following "key highlights" reported by InfoTrends (quoted from the report):

* US re-manufacturers and brokers almost uniformly do not recycle waste components, as opposed to larger European remanufacturers that recycle much more frequently (smaller European remanufacturers are similar to their US counterparts with respect to the recycling of waste).

* Most re-manufacturers do not want their own cartridges back. Instead, they want OEM-branded cartridges that were not previously re-manufactured, also known in the industry as virgin cores or hulks. Re-manufacturers orient their programs to collect OEM cartridges. Some limit their collections to OEM brands and charge fees for the return of previously re-manufactured cartridges.

* Transparent and public reporting of environmental performance was not available from any of the re-manufacturers that [InfoTrends] surveyed.

"In contrast, HP's recycling program is environmentally sound. Since 1991, when HP launched Planet Partners, its return and recycling program, we have processed hundreds of millions of cartridges to recover materials for use in new products. This return and recycling program is offered free of charge to customers in 45 countries around the world, representing almost 90 percent market coverage. In major markets, returning a cartridge is as simple as affixing a postage-paid label or placing a cartridge in a postage-paid mailer.

"We also note the digital printing industry's overall performance, and believe strongly that when put into context it represents a resounding environmental success story. For example, InfoTrends reports their estimate that 54 percent of laser cartridges (all brands in US and Western Europe) are collected after first use. That is truly remarkable for market-driven, voluntary efforts, without government intervention. In fact, the State of California recently reported in its "Biannual Report of Beverage Container Sales, Returns, Redemption, and Recycling Rates" that the State's beverage container recycling rate for "All Materials" (which includes deposit bottles and cans, and other containers for which curbside recycling is available) was 57 percent for the period July through December 2006.

"We're proud of our environmental performance and are always working to further increase participation in our recycling programs."

What HP is saying here is that, although re-manufacturers do re-use printer cartridges their own recycling record for cartridges that are not re-used is abyssmal. HP, although it does not re-use cartridges, does recover components for re-use and its recycling record is impressive.

Yes, it is.

However, it is environmentally better to re-use printer cartridges than to recycle their components. It may well be cheaper for consumers to buy re-manufactured cartridges (re-used ones) too.

What's in laser toner cartridges?

Concerning laser printer toner cartridges, there is the point that they generally contain much more than a cassette full of toner. There will also be a print drum, a cleaning mechanism and other mechanical components. During the life of a laser printer the combined drum/toner unit will need to be replaced many, many times. It makes more sense, one would think, for the drum to be designed for a longer life so that it doesn't need replacing.

This is what Kyocera does with its Ecosys laser printers and copiers. Kyocera makes the point that these use a durable print drum with a super-hard material coating to provide up to 350,000 printed pages. This contrasts sharply with conventional laser printers, which require users to buy a whole new print cartridge every time the toner runs out.

Kyocera doesn't re-use toner cassettes though. Empty ones get returned to Kyocera which recycles the plastic material to make fresh toner cassettes.

Kyocera has taken issue with recent HP advertising placed in channel publications Microscope and Computer Reseller News (CRN), that asserted customers need only replace toner during the life of the new HP Colour LaserJet CP3505, thereby reducing the number of consumables and saving money.

The advert's copy text stated 'The new HP color LaserJet CP3505 series not only offers excellent value for money, but won’t end up costing your customers a fortune in consumables. Why? Because unlike other brands on the market, your customer only needs to replace the print cartridge, and nothing else. No drum, maintenance, fuser, cleaning or transfer kits.'

Kyocera states, 'This is untrue. The HP CP3505 uses legacy print cartridges from the HP Colour LaserJet 3600 and 3800 printer series. These cartridges certainly contain toner but, crucially, they also contain a print drum, cleaning parts and numerous other mechanical pieces.'

'It is absolutely clear that when HP’s advertising says the Colour LaserJet CP3505 “only requires replacement toner throughout its life. And nothing else” it is untrue. The drums are simply hidden within the print cartridges and the user pays accordingly. The packaging for HP print cartridges states that “HP Print Cartridges are responsible for 70 percent of the printer’s imaging system”; a statement which is not compatible with claims that the cartridges contain only toner.'

'HP’s claim that the Colour LaserJet CP3505 “won’t cost you the earth” is also misleading. Using data from analyst company Context, the colour cost per page of the HP Colour LaserJet CP3505 is 7.50p, 61 percent higher than Kyocera’s equivalent product, the FS-C5025N. The HP’s monochrome cost per page is 72 percent higher than Kyocera’s.'

Ian Joslin, Kyocera UK's general manager, said: “For HP to claim that this technology offers customers a cost saving is ludicrous. HP’s marketing approach is typical of the ‘smoke and mirrors’ tactics that have been employed by our competitors for many years. It obscures the short-life, high-waste nature of their technology and the consequent costs that will be passed on to users.”

“The fact is that the HP Colour LaserJet CP3505 is a throwaway product, designed to be disposed of at the end of its short life. To dress this up in claims of economy is disingenuous and amounts to false advertising.”

Peter Maude, a director of analyst company Charisco, added: "I believe Hewlett-Packard is guilty of an error of judgement with the misleading wording of its recent advertising. True - a Colour LaserJet CP3505 user needs replace only print cartridges under normal low-volume usage. But, there is no question of the device not having print drums - they are integrated, as is the cost."

A complaint has been lodged with the Advertising Standards Agency by Kyocera regarding this HP advert. HP was unable to respond in time for this feature.

If printer manufacturers stopped treating drums as consumables, equivalent to toner cassettes, then the amount of printer-related material to be recycled would be reduced.