Facts about ink cartridges, printers & the environment

Ink cartridges

Share this post

Ink and Toner Cartridges

There is an awful lot of misinformation out there surrounding the use of NON-genuine Ink and Toner cartridges, and I hope I can clear some of this up for you.

Firstly, I must make it clear that this is not an attack on the customer, or even on the vendor. Nor do I hold any loyalty to the printer manufacturers, or seek to gain from the sale of genuine cartridges.

I am merely aiming to straighten out the facts, and hopefully provide some useful hints and tips with regards to selecting the correct printer solutions for individuals and businesses.

I witness first hand every day the struggles of individuals and small business owners when it comes to printing. Ink and toner have just become so expensive, that quite often people are left with little choice but to search for alternatives.

Unfortunately, this is where the problems lie. Quite often the cheaper alternatives are poorly made and either leak, don’t work properly or cause deeper and more serious problems. But none of this is made clear to the customer. As I said before this is not an attack on the vendor because they are simply trying to help the customer to save money, but quite often they are doing more harm than good. And I am not even sure that the vendors are even aware of these risks.

Sadly, there are of course instances where the vendors are fully aware of all this and are simply out to make money from vulnerable people, but this is explained more towards the end of this blog.

There are two main types of office printers, Ink and Laser machines.

Ink Printers

Most people have or have had one either at home or for their business at some point, and there are generally two types of these printers too. Those with multiple ink tanks (4 or more), and those with just two cartridges (one black and one tri-color). The ones with multiple ink tanks have a separate printhead (the part which does the printing), whereas the ones with just two inks have the printhead as part of the cartridge itself.

Multiple Ink Tank System:
Brother, Canon, Epson and some HP printers use the multiple ink tank technology, and sadly these are the most common to encounter problems surrounding cheap inks. The main problem is to do with the printhead itself. You will start to get lines through the print, or certain colours coming out patchy or not printing at all.

What happens is the cheaper ink clogs the printhead which renders it useless, and most of the time the printhead is either not available to purchase or more expensive than a new printer. The printer now needs replacing and it becomes landfill.

Now it is worth mentioning that this is only really relevant to printers where the ink tanks plug directly into the printhead assembly itself. There are some printers where the inks slot into the side of the machine, and then there is a tube system inside which transports the ink to the printhead. With these machines it is absolutely imperative that you use the correct ink, because it is not just the printhead that can encounter problems. The tube system can just as easily clog, and it is highly unlikely that these systems are available to buy as a spare part.

However I have known printers that use this technology to acquire similar faults even though the customer has ALWAYS used genuine inks, and this can sometimes be caused by lack of use or inaction. But regardless of anything the outcome is the same, nothing can be done to rectify the problem.

I tend not to favour these machines that much because of this issue, but I have also known people to have used them for years and been quite happy. This is simply my opinion..

Ink Printer

Two Cartridge System:
These are by far the more efficient of the two technologies, because each time a cartridge is changed, the printhead is being changed as well. They can be removed and cleaned periodically, which also helps maintain good print quality. However arguably they do provide slightly less quality prints when it comes to printing bold images like photos etc. But I stress the word arguably.

Perhaps more importantly though, if the customer chooses to use a cheaper alternative ink then they are not going to wreck the machine. The worst that is going to happen is that the cartridge will not work properly, or maybe leak a bit. Obviously, I do not recommend the use of cheap alternative inks, but you are much more likely to get away with it using this type of printer.

Unfortunately, it is only really HP who make this type of printer but be careful when shopping because as mentioned previously they also sell multiple ink tank machines too.

Kodak used to provide good value printers supporting this technology, but sadly they are obsolete now.

I have also heard very good things about HP’s “Instant Ink” system.

There are Large Format Printers which generally use an ink system, but these differ greatly from smaller machines as spare parts are much more readily available.

However, the principles explained previously still need to be strictly adhered to, because even though the cost of a new printhead or ink supply system (tube system) is far cheaper than the cost of a new machine, the spare parts will cost far more than the savings made on purchasing the cheaper inks.

Laser Printers

Now the cheap cartridge problem associated to laser printers is far more hidden, but sadly no less serious. What I mean by hidden is that the issues that they cause are not immediately apparent like with most ink printers, and unfortunately because of this the users quite often find that they do not have any problems apart from the odd print quality issue.

There are two main types of laser printer, mono (black and white) and colour.

Laser Printer

I will start with colour lasers, because the cost of the consumables for these are generally a lot more expensive than with mono machines, and there are far more parts to replace also.

This of course leads to the almost immediate resorting to the use of cheaper alternative cartridges which in turn causes far greater problems.

There are generally four colour cartridges including Black, Yellow, Magenta and Cyan. Different manufacturers will have differing ways of supplying the various consumables, and typically there are Drum Units, Developer Units, Transfer Belts and Fuser Units to replace also.

HP will quite often have four separate cartridges which will contain the drum units and developer units as part of the cartridge, with a separate transfer belt and fuser unit. However Kyocera for example will have four separate toner cartridges, four separate drum units and four separate developer units. So, this is twelve consumable parts compared to HP’s four.

Some Oki machines use four cartridges and four drums, but the drums contain the developer units so that’s eight. Other models have four cartridges which insert into one whole drum unit which contains all four cylinders for each colour.

Transfer belts and fuser units are always required for whichever make or model and are never incorporated into other parts in the machine.

So, as you can see there are lots of varying ways of supplying the same parts but be assured that every colour laser will have a Toner Cartridge, a Drum Unit, a Developer Unit, a Transfer Belt and a Fuser Unit. And it is the latter more expensive parts that are at risk from the use of non-genuine toners, which as mentioned previously is quite often hidden initially.

Drum units and developers are built to last anything from 10,000 sheets up to 100,000 sheets, and transfer belts and fuser units are built to last anything from 50,000 sheets to 200,000 sheets. Which of course for most users is actually quite a lot of printing, and that is why the problems are not often visible at first. But for anyone doing excessive amounts of printing, the problems will become much more apparent, because these hard wearing more expensive parts will start to fail long before they are due to.

Most of the time users are not even aware of all the parts that wear within a printer. And so, when they undoubtedly encounter a problem early on with a drum, fuser or transfer belt long before it is due to wear out, the cost of replacing the part is quite often close to or equal to the cost of a new machine. Then it becomes landfill.

So, the savings on toner cartridges are very much a short term saving because they will cause longer term issues, so I do not advise using them if you plan to keep your printer for a long period of time.

There are also other issues associated to the use of cheaper toners though. Quite often they are second hand shells which have been poorly made or reconstructed, and more often than not they leak inside the machine.

Not many people know this, but toner is in fact corrosive. So, when it is distributed freely around the inside of the printer by leaky cartridges, this toner creeps around the inner workings of the machine and slowly eats away at the circuitry and motors, quite often causing major malfunction and fatal errors.

Again, these are unnecessary faults which quite often occur at a relatively low page count and will more often than not result in the machine being scrapped.

Unfortunately, there are quite a few companies out there selling non-genuine toners to companies and branches of businesses with the promise that they will cover the cost of repairs, but sadly the customers are completely unaware of these hidden dangers.

The irony is that they claim to be saving people money, but in truth they are actually ripping people off.

These are quite different in the sense that there is only one black cartridge, one drum unit, one developer unit and one fuser unit. Plus, there is NO transfer belt. And the majority of these machines have one single cartridge which incorporates the drum and developer inside.

This also means that problems can be hidden initially, apart from the odd print quality issue or leaky toner. But some of the problems mentioned in the previous section are still relevant for mono machines. Cheap toners will wear out fusers before their time, and excessive deposits of toner around the machine will cause serious problems or failures.

Some Kyocera printers do have a separate drum unit and developer unit, so it is worth being aware that these parts will wear out quicker than they are meant to when using cheap alternatives.

So again, the savings are very much short term, and the same environment issues are apparent.

There is another common type of technology previously not mentioned which are the Xerox wax printers.
These are high quality and highly efficient, but unfortunately the use of cheap inks with these machines have immediate fatal consequences.
Similar to the colour ink machines, the wax feeds into the printhead and it is this part that fails. A common effect of this is streaky prints, and sadly once this happens there is nothing you can do. You can replace the printhead, but it costs around £600 so it’s a very expensive mistake to make if you opt for cheap alternatives.

Again, short term savings for longer term issues, and ultimately a huge environment issue with unnecessary scrapping of machines (READ ON)

Printer Waste & The Enviroment

Printer waste is a huge problem. On average, each Briton throws away between 44lbs and 55lbs (20 and 25kg) of e-waste each year.

43 million tons of electronic waste was generated in 2016, a rise of eight per cent from 2014, the fastest growth of any type of refuse, and double the rate of plastic refuse. Experts foresee a further increase in e-waste of 17% by 2121, with the amount of annual waste increasing globally to 51 million tons a year as the digital world continues to expand.

Of course this problem is not just to do with IT waste, it is the same with almost everything these days. But why is it always our responsibility to do something about it? Why aren’t the manufacturers being put under more pressure to engineer equipment to last longer? Sadly money is more important every time.

It does not happen in poorer or less affluent countries, so why here? Is it snobbery or ignorance? It is almost like we are ashamed to get stuff repaired, like it is a waste of money. Everything has to be new all the time, but no one is really considering the long term effects of this mentality.

We are all guilty of it in one sense or another though, from the every day items that we use and dispose of without thought, to much larger possessions such as cars etc. we have become a throw away society.

But most of it is not our fault, it is marketed that way so we are almost brainwashed to continue in this manner. We take for granted that we are a relatively rich nation and throw money around without a thought or care in the world. It simply would not happen if money were a lot tighter.

So like many of the other things mentioned, it is action at the very top level that is required. But sadly this is highly unlikely to change as most ministers have shares in the companies in question, and so to take action against them will directly affect the size of their bank balance.

How sad though that money has become more important than quality of life or health and wellbeing, there is so much more to life but unfortunately most of us miss it as we are all caught up in the “keeping up with the Jones’s” mentality.

However, if enough of us begin to take small action steps then change is possible, it just needs the right voice and a lot of perseverance.

Printer waste

Expense of Printer Spares

There are many factors attributed to the causes of printer waste, but I will first start with the general expense of printer spares and consumables compared to the costs of new machines.

On too many occasions does perfectly good equipment end up in landfill simply because it is not cost effective for an end user or small business owner to repair their printer. This is obvious with Ink machines as they have become so cheap to replace, but sadly it often happens with Laser printers now which can sometimes cost £600-£800, how is that even possible?

More pressure needs to be put on the government and printer manufacturers as a whole to make spare parts and consumables cheaper and more readily available. This would mean that most people would be more inclined to get their printers maintained or repaired, it would make much more business sense to them.

In fairness to bigger companies, they are under a lot more pressure to get stuff repaired. They have specific budgets set aside for this, rather than for new equipment. But you cannot blame the small business owner or end user for replacing their machines when they go wrong, they generally have limited options available to them.

Longevity of Printers

This is perhaps more relevant to the smaller ink machines, as these are much more likely to be disposed of after a shorter period of time.

Following on from the previous section about bringing prices down, I believe that there are also certain parts which could be made to be a replacement part which would help make these ink machines last longer.

I am talking specifically about the Ink Service Station (sometimes called something similar).

The problem with these parts is that they have a shelf life and after a period of time clog with ink, and once this occurs then the printer has to be thrown away. It is a part that could be easily made replaceable and sold as a consumable item just like the cartridges, and this would dramatically reduce the amount of ink printers ending up in landfill.

But it has to be cost effective, perhaps even increase the cost of printers so it is not such a quick decision to replace the printer.

Printers In landfill

Cheap Printer Ink & Toner

This is undoubtedly the biggest cause of printer waste. As also previously mentioned, it is not an attack the suppliers or consumers but instead an attack on the printer manufacturers. Until prices of genuine parts are reduced then sadly this industry will continue to flourish.

The problems all tie in together really, but generally they all come back to this. The cost of genuine spares and consumables are too high, so people look for cheaper alternatives. These cheaper alternatives either wreck the machine by clogging the printhead (Ink), in which case nothing can be done so it has to be disposed of. Or they wreck larger and more expensive parts within the machine (Laser), which then often leads to printer replacement due to it not being cost effective to replace these parts.

Another common problem with the use of cheap toner in laser printers is that often they are poorly manufactured and leak toner inside the machine. The toner then eats away at other parts in the machine, like motors and circuitry etc. This then often leads to tricky and expensive problems, which again leads to premature disposal.

Not only do the cheap inks and toners cause long term problems for the printers, but they are an environmental problem themselves.

The recycling or re-manufacturing of ink and toner cartridges is actually a bigger environmental problem than it claims to be avoiding.

Any recycling or re-manufacturing company will only ever want an empty GENUINE ink or toner cartridge. The problem is that once this cartridge has been recycled or re-manufactured and used or emptied, NO ONE then wants that cartridge.

So, what looks like a great idea from the outside, is actually causing much more of a problem in reality. More and more used/emptied recycled/re-manufactured cartridges end up in landfill because no one will take responsibility for them, so it is in fact multiplying the problem.

Again, I must stress that this is not an attack on these suppliers (although some are crooks), but instead I am calling for action from the government to force printer manufacturers to collect and dispose/recycle/re-manufacture their own cartridges so that less ends up in landfill.

In my opinion it needs to be made law, because ink and toner is poisonous and extremely damaging to the environment. That is the only way that the disposal can be controlled, and the process made safe and harmless, plus eradicating the cheap alternative market altogether.

BUT, these companies MUST first reduce their prices, or it will only end up with people finding other alternative ways to manufacture and supply cheap ink and toner.

This is all possible to achieve, but the state of the environment has to become more important than money or profits. Is this really possible?

Recycling or Re-manufacturing of Ink and Toner Cartridges

From the outside, the Recycling or Re-manufacturing of Ink and Toner cartridges is a noble and just cause. But in truth it actually causes more problems than it solves.
Any recycling or re-manufacturing company will only ever want an EMPTY genuine cartridge, and this is the same for ink and laser printers.

Once that particular cartridge has been recycled or re-manufactured and then used or emptied, NO ONE then wants that empty cartridge. So, in fact this process is just dumping more and more empty recycled or re-manufactured cartridges into landfill.

So, like I say it looks good from the outside, but actually it is multiplying the problem.

What really needs to happen is for the printer manufacturers to recycle their own cartridges, but of course they do not want to do this because it costs them money.
The only suitable recycling centre for ink and toner cartridges is in Belgium, so of course it costs money to get these items shipped there, so the big companies are not keen.

Under government pressure they have to be seen as doing something, but in truth they don’t. You can find sections somewhere on their websites which offer recycling, but quite often it is not implemented correctly.

In my opinion more needs to be done to pressure these companies into action.

Firstly, they need to reduce the costs of cartridges and spare parts so that machines can be maintained at a reasonable price. Thus, resulting in the whole “after-market” of cartridges being eradicated completely, which would ultimately mean a lot less equipment ending up in landfill.

Lower prices would mean that individuals and businesses would be much more inclined to hang onto their equipment for longer, replacing the parts when required in the knowledge that it actually did make better business sense. You cannot say that at the moment.

Not only that, there would be no need whatsoever for these cheap alternative cartridges to exist. Now this might not sit comfortably with everyone, and as I mentioned in my previous blog I am not blaming these companies for the problem, because generally they are trying to help the consumer to save money. But unfortunately, regardless of this they are the cause of major problems, whether it be machine functionality or environment issues, ultimately they are caused by these cartridges.

But action needs to be taken by the manufacturers first. If genuine cartridge prices were more competitive against the cost of cheaper ink, then undoubtedly consumers would opt for the real thing.

They need to be held accountable, because at the moment they are simply rubbing their hands together because they win twice every time a machine is scrapped.

The customer has to purchase a brand new machine, which conveniently does not take the old cartridges, so the manufacturers get to sell a new machine and a new set of cartridges. Why should they reduce their prices when they are winning so much each time anyway? There’s no incentive for them and it needs government intervention at the very least.

Secondly (I have gone off on a bit of tangent here), in the meantime they need to be doing more to recycle their own cartridges. It should become law that the only way a cartridge or printer consumable can be disposed of is directly through the manufacturers. There is too much of this stuff ending up in landfill and no one is doing a thing about it.

Everyone is banging on about the effects of plastic in the environment at the moment, but nothing is being done about this.

Everything about printer waste is bad. They are mostly made of plastic, so nothing can really be done with them once they are scrapped. Plus, the ink and toner is poisonous, so if it is not disposed of correctly it can cause serious harm to the environment.

This problem is only amplified by poorly constructed, recycled or re-manufactured cartridges.

The third point is that more needs to be done to actually make printers last longer so that they are disposed of less urgently. This is perhaps more relevant to the Ink machines though, as opposed to Laser printers where a much larger selection of spare parts are available.

The ink machines, regardless of whichever cartridges you use, only have a certain shelf life anyway. There is a section inside the machine called an ink service station or something similar, which is basically responsible for the periodic cleaning of the printhead during printing. It is the part that does all the whirring when initialising and turning on and off.

Through the cleaning process, the service station collects the excess ink. Once this printer has done a certain amount of prints and after many cleans of the printhead, the ink that has collected in the service station begins to overflow and creep around the printer. This then gets inside the intricate parts of the machine, including the gearing of the service station itself causing it to stall and quite often fail completely. This is then another throw away job.

However, many years ago you used to be able to extract these parts from the machine quite easily to clean thoroughly, therefore preventing the printer from failing. But unsurprisingly you cannot do this anymore, they are buried deep within the machine and cannot be easily accessed. In fact, I would go as far as to accuse the manufacturers of designing them this way so that they cannot be maintained.
This comes back to the point made above about printer manufacturers controlling the market, and of course benefiting from more sales after these machines eventually pack up.

An easy solution to this would be to actually make this service station a consumable item, just like an ink tank or cartridge. Easily removable and replaceable, therefore allowing the printers to last longer and stay out of landfill.

The printers are without doubt a “lost leader”, so why not make them last longer? Again, more pressure needs to be put on the printer manufacturers to make this happen. Large format printers possess these parts which are available as spares, so why not for these smaller machines?

Identify Your Own Specific Printing Requirements

This section is really aimed at helping people to identify their own specific printing requirements.

Quite often a small business owner or home user will purchase a small inkjet as their first printer. This is generally obvious because they are so cheap to buy, and there is no need for anything larger.

However, a common problem I find is that a lot of the printing that they are actually doing is mainly black and white.

Not many people know this but even if you are printing black and white only, your colour printer will run the colours down too. This often leads to the unnecessary replacement of cartridges, which is then not so cost effective.

Cartridges running out too often lead people to either searching for cheaper alternatives, or simply purchasing a new machine due to the extortionate expense.

My advice in this instance is to assess what you are actually printing, do you really need colour?

If not then I would advise that you purchase a small mono (black and white) Laser Printer, although it will be more expensive to purchase initially, you will get many more sheets from your consumables.

If you do a lot of black and white printing but occasionally you do need colour, then I often advise people to buy two printers. One small (or large depending on output) mono laser for the every day printing such as letters, invoices and emails etc. And one colour inkjet for “one off” colour prints.

Another common misconception is that you need a colour printer because your business logo has colour in it. For this I advise that you simply get your paper printed with your logo on it, then use that paper in your mono printer.

You may find that you need something more substantial for your colour printing, but I would urge you to really consider your options before opting for a Colour Laser Printer. As mentioned previously, there are an awful lot of different consumable items to replace in a colour laser, so you really do have to justify the costs.

Plus it can end up being a very expensive mistake to make if you are not aware of this in the beginning, and upon realisation opt for cheap alternatives and give yourself more serious problems further down the line.

Or worse still, simply decide that you cannot afford to replace the parts in them, and a perfectly good machine goes to landfill again.

I only really recommend the use of colour lasers if it is for the purpose of printing some sort of marketing material, or at least something which can lead to you actually making money from the stuff you are printing like photos etc.

Types of Printers

Once you are aware of the type of stuff you are printing, then you can go ahead and decide on the type of printer that you require.

I tend to favour the HP Envy range when looking at colour inkjet printers. HP’s “Instant Ink” system seems to work really well too, and although I have never used it myself, I have had lots of positive feedback from customers who say it works really well and is very good value.

As mentioned briefly previously also, I prefer the “Two Cartridge System” when it comes to purchasing a colour inkjet printer. This is mainly because they generally encounter much less problems, however this may not be suitable for say someone printing photographs etc.

In this instance it is probably advisable to go for the “Multiple Ink Tank System”, but it is imperative that you use genuine inks, or you will undoubtedly get problems with the printhead further down the line.

Canon and Epson are the best options for this type of technology.

If you are opting for this type of machine in the first place, then it is likely that you are printing something that you are able to make money from i.e. photos, marketing material etc. If this is not the case, then I think you need to assess as to whether you really need a printer of this nature.

Plus you also need to consider if it is a printer that you wish to keep for a long time, because unfortunately all inkjet printers have a shelf life. Once the ink or service station inside the machine is full then it will eventually fail, plus there are very limited spares available for them. Laser printers on the other hand generally have unlimited spares available, and can therefore last for a substantially longer time.
For Mono Laser Printers (black and white), most are pretty reliable and I highly recommend purchasing one of these if you are predominantly printing letters, invoices and emails etc. This will get expensive if you use a colour printer, ink or laser.

It is worth researching whether there are any additional consumables to purchase though. For instance, most HP mono lasers will use one cartridge which includes the drum and developer units as part of the same unit, where as some Kyocera machines for example have 3 separate parts which can get expensive if not properly accounted for.

I often check out Which? magazine for the most up to date “Best Buys”.

For Colour Laser Printers you must first do some research as to the long term expense required to run a machine like this. As mentioned previously you need to assess how much colour you are printing, and the sort of stuff you are printing. If it is minimal then I recommend purchasing a colour inkjet and mono laser to keep costs down.

A3 or A4 Printers

If you are just printing A4 then the above advice is ok to follow. First assess what you are actually printing, and then you can make a decision based on that information as to the best printer(s) to go for.

However if you need A3 then it needs a little more thought. Again you need to assess what level of colour you require if any, and then make a decision from there.
It is worth knowing though that Mono Laser A3 printers are generally a lot more expensive to buy, so I would not recommend purchasing one of these unless you do next to no colour printing at all.

I would normally steer people towards an A3 inkjet regardless of colour requirements as these are generally a lot cheaper to purchase than a mono or colour A3 laser. However you must consider how much you are printing because like all other inkjets, they do still have a shelf life so you may find you are replacing your printer more frequently than you need to.

Exactly the same caution needs to be taken when considering an A3 laser printer, either colour or black and white. A3 colour printers in particular are extremely expensive to buy and run, so if this is a genuine necessity then it might be worth considering lease options instead.