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Recycling Laser Printer Cartridges

written by: Steve McFarlane•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 2/20/2010

If you are a consumer of laser printer toner cartridges and are concerned about the environmental impact of discarded cartridges, then you will want to read on. In this article, we explore the options that are available for handling used laser printer toner cartridges.

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    Recycling empty laser printer cartridges is the most environmentally friendly option of those available to deal with used toner cartridges. There are claims that only 5% of cartridges are being recycled, which means that a large percentage is ending up in landfills. This figure is particular alarming because it takes up to 1.5 liters of oil to produce a new laser printer cartridge from scratch; even worse, discarded ink and laser cartridges can take more than 1,000 years to decompose.

    Why throw away a perfectly good cartridge just because it runs out of toner? You can have your copier, fax machine and laser printer cartridges recharged (refilled) for a fraction of the cost of a new one. It is not uncommon for persons using refill kits to save more than 50% off the cost of a new cartridge. In most cases you won’t be able to tell the difference in print quality between a new cartridge and a refill.

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    Refill and Reuse Your Used Toner Cartridges

    The mere fact that a printer cartridge is empty doesn’t mean that the cartridge itself is no good. Refilling a toner cartridge is quick and easy and requires no special skills. Toner cartridges can be refilled through either a removable fill cap, or you can make a hole in the cartridge if there is no refill cap. It’s recommended that a soldering iron be used to create the hole; drilling can cause plastic bits to enter the toner chamber, which will cause problems once you start using the printer.

    Be warned, the refill process can be messy, harmful to your health, and ruinous to your furnishings. The toner powder can adversely affect your health; therefore, you should protect your eyes and cover your mouth when attempting to do a refill. It is also a good idea to do the refill outside your office or building, as the toner powder can really create a mess.

    Before you use a remanufactured or refilled a laser printer toner cartridge, check that it won’t void your warranty. Manufactures usually include this rule to protect the revenue they make from selling replacement cartridges. It is true, a poorly done toner cartridge refill can adversely affect print quality, or even reduce the useful life of your laser printer, but the quality of refill products are, by-and-large, comparable to what you will get from the OEM (original equipment manufacturer).

    Some manufacturers include 'smart chips' or fuses, which you will need to replace in order to get the cartridge to function past its “expected” life. Fortunately, these replacement fuses are available from manufacturers of refill kits.

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    How to Refill a Laser Toner Cartridge

    1. Remove the fill cap, or make a hole in the cartridge with a soldering iron.
    2. Use a funnel to refill the cartridge with toner, through the access hole. Try not to squeeze the bottle containing the toner powder, as this can cause you to spill toner all over yourself and your work area.
    3. Replace the fill plug, or seal the hole you made with aluminum tape. Most recharge kits come with this special tape.
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    Recycle When You Can’t Reuse

    It is not recommended that you refill your toner cartridge more than twice. The cartridge itself has intricate moving parts that will eventually wear out, so you will need a new cartridge ever so often. If you are on a shoestring budget and decide to do more than two refills, don’t fill the toner cartridge completely. Instead, do a quarter fill, just in case the cartridge starts to go bad before all the toner is used up. By doing it this way, you won’t waste much toner if the cartridge itself starts failing before the toner is done.

    There are some recyclers who will pay you for your used laser toner cartridges. Some professional recyclers will even donate their proceeds to charity or some other worthy cause.

    With more companies becoming environmentally conscious the list of options for recycling your cartridges is now wider than ever. The following is a list to help you find a recycler in your area. Some will purchase your used cartridge, as well as provide you with remanufactured ones.

    • Laser-Tone International – They offer free pick-up and delivery within the United States for your ink jet and laser printer cartridges, and other office products you wish to recycle and reuse.
    • Staples - Staples will allow you to recycle up to 10 cartridges and toners per calendar month. Just drop off your empties at any Staples store.
    • Recycle 4 Charity - Their recycling program is free and is aimed at helping charities. They recycle “empty toners and inkjet cartridges, unused surplus copier, fax and printer supplies, and old cell phones.”
    • RecycleFree.com - They will collect your used cartridges and remanufacture them for resale to office supply dealers and distributors nationwide. But most importantly, they offer a free recycling service; just send your empty cartridge to them.
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    Summary

    Support manufacturers that are environmentally conscious and offer a good recycling program. These companies usually include recycling instructions on their products, so they should not be hard to find. Many companies will provide free postage, so you can ship used cartridges to them to be recycled or reused. You can also consider refilling your used cartridges or purchase remanufactured ones before you purchase brand new replacements. Recycling your laser printer toner cartridges is good for the environment, and if you look carefully, you can find options that are good for your pocket as well.