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Cartridge recycling benefits: the bottom line & the environment.

Until a few years ago, the image created by the word "laser" was that classic James Bond movie when Goldfinger tried to part James up the middle with a laser beam that easily burned through a steel table.

Times change. Today one kind of laser refers to the newest type of printer on the market. Although laser printers have been available since about 1984, not until about 1987 did prices begin dropping to more easily affordable levels and the printers gain popularity.

Laser printers come with a toner cartridge that always has been a major recurring expense. At first, spent cartridges were thrown away. But refilling, or recharging, toner cartridges later came into practice and a new industry was born.

More recently the reference to recharging a laser toner has changed to "remanufacturing" and "recycling." These buzz words were adopted by the refilling industry to alert businesses that a company using a laser printer can cut costs with a bonus of helping to save the environment.

Before 1986, refilling cartridges meant nothing more than a "drill-and-fill" operation. A hole was drilled in the top of the cartridge, toner was pumped in, and black electrical tape was placed over the hole. This sometimes became a "drill-and-spill" reality, because toner would escape and clog machine parts. Nowadays the cartridges are completely dismantled. They are vacuumed out; worn parts are replaced; and quality toner is added.

According to Doug and Joan Harvey, co-owners of Southeast Copy Supply, a toner cartridge recycling business in Juneau, recycling is still a cottage industry. Many large printer manufacturers are aware that this industry is here to stay and is profitable, however.

"These companies are trying to buy up the small recharging companies to turn this into big business," says Doug Harvey. "It wasn't that long ago that major companies were implying that using recharged toner cartridges was not good for their machines and their warranties would be affected."

Last spring, a Hewlett-Packard dealer newsletter was circulated with claims that the use of recycled cartridges effectively voided warranties. A national flood of outrage from recyclers followed.

According to an article in the Aug. 8, 1990, Lasercharge Light, an industry publication, Hewlett-Packard issued a formal letter recanting its position. Some of the giant laser printer manufacturers now have made a complete turnaround in their approach to remanufactured toner cartridges and are entering the business.

A new cartridge can cost as much as $130 to $140 or as low as $95, especially if purchased from a volume discount house. By contrast, the average recycling cost is $50. Sometimes the cost for recycling is closer to $90 or $100, but that price includes replacing the drum. A cartridge with a new drum can be recharged nine or more times for $50 per recharge.

Similar to the computer industry with its overnight advances in technology, toner cartridge remanufacturing has seen major improvements in technology and products, such as toner. While cartridge remanufacturing is an industry still in its infancy, steps are being taken by recycling associations to set standards of quality performance.

Now that the technology is reliable, Alaskan businesses are choosing recycling to cut costs and reduce unnecessary waste. At least one company in Anchorage was using several hundred cartridges a month and throwing cartridges away in a landfill before becoming enlightened about recycling/remanufacturing. The plastic and aluminum in a toner cartridge takes several thousand years to decompose.

Substantial savings can be realized through recycling. A company that buys a cartridge for $100 and uses it once before throwing it away will spend $1,000 for 10 cartridges. But if that company buys a cartridge for $100, has it remanufactured with a new drum unit installed for $90, and pays $50 each for the next nine recharges, the cost is $640, or a savings of $360!

Business managers using remanufactured toner cartridges can greatly improve their bottom line while doing a good turn for Mother Earth.

Buyers' Tips: What You Should Know

As in most machinery, many parts work together to operate a laser printer. The laser inside a printer is an intense light that produces a magnetic charge. That light imprints the drum with an image of what is to be printed. The drum, in turn, brings the toner down on the page as the paper passes under the cartridge.

A laser does not actually "burn" the print onto the page; rather, a fusion roller performs the burning process by melting the toner. A corona wire roughly the thickness of a human hair pulls the toner from the drum by means of an electrical charge, and a wiper blade picks up any excess toner.

When purchasing a recycled laser printer cartridge, you'll want a product that performs as well as or better than the original manufacturer's product. Connie Mehner, president of LaserTone of Anchorage, explains that the first time a cartridge is recycled, the drum should be replaced. "If the drum is not replaced, we cannot guarantee how long the cartridge will last," she says.

Her company guarantees that, with the installation of a new drum, the cartridge can be refilled another 15 times. Mehner points out that recycled cartridges typically print darker than original equipment, enabling users to adjust the print for less toner. "Because you use less toner, the cartridges don't run out as fast and you don't spend as much money," she adds.

Other parts often are replaced in cartridges. According to Doug Harvey of Southeast Copy Supply in Juneau, those parts include wiper blades and gold-plated corona wires. A wire that is dirty or stretched from too many cleanings causes uneven print quality.

Another corona wire is visible when the printer is open. It is equally important to keep this wire clean, Harvey notes.

"When told that you need a new drum, ask if the price includes replacing the corona wire, wiper and any other worn parts," Harvey advises. "If these replacements do not take place, you've just wasted the additional cost of drum replacement."

The amount of printing that can be expected from a cartridge depends on the extent of its use, rather than on the time between recharges. For double-spaced type on an 8-1/2-inch by 11-inch sheet, 2,500 to 3,000 pages is about the average output for a laser printer cartridge; graphics with many shaded areas will use toner much faster.

Many discount houses offer recycled toner cartridges at large savings. In deciding whether to use discount remanufacturing or a local service, consider that if a cartridge problem arises, even with a 100 percent warranty, it will be necessary to box and ship the cartridge back to the remanufacturer. In the end, the lower cost of discount-house purchasing may take a toll in business efficiency.

Service should be a major consideration when selecting a recycler. Ask about turnaround time and if the recycler offers pickup and delivery service. If you don't have spare cartridges on hand, you'll also want to inquire whether the business provides a loaner cartridge.

To obtain the best quality possible from your laser printer, use good-quality paper, whether virgin or recycled. Remember you can vary the density of toner with a printer adjustment to produce lighter or darker print.

The single most important factor affecting the performance of the toner cartridge is the user's knowledge of the printer. If you are unfamiliar with your printer's cleaning maintenance, your recycler likely can show you how to keep your equipment clean.

A frequent cause of problems with laser printers is static electricity. One way to alleviate this problem is to wait until the paper tray is completely empty before adding more paper. In locations where static electricity is a common problem, an anti-static mat and an electrical grounding system are good protection.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Alaska Business Publishing Company, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:McKechnie, Jim
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Previous Article:Oilfield innovator Ted Stagg.
Next Article:Matanuska-Susitna Borough.

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