When Is a New OEM Cartridge a Recycled Cartridge?

Paying attention to percentages of percentages



Peter Mayhew



I recently heard a senior IT manager—responsible for buying thousands of OEM brand toner and inkjet cartridges each year—claim that the original cartridges he was buying were remanufactured and recycled. I was puzzled. But, rather than challenge, I allowed the dialog to continue to see what I could learn.


Because he had read an OEM’s Corporate Social Responsibility section of their website and seen in marketing collateral that their cartridges featured a percentage of recycled, post-consumer plastic, the manager was convinced. Furthermore, the OEM’s salesman had taken the time to explain that, by buying the OEM’s cartridges, he was contributing to a reduction in his own company’s carbon footprint.


I was still not convinced, but I wanted to see whether I could validate the claims made by this IT manager.


Percentages Matter

In previous blogs I have been cautious about language, but it’s worth revisiting the subject again. Keypoint Intelligence defines “remanufacturing” as the rebuilding of a product guaranteed to achieve the specifications of the original manufactured product using a combination of reused, repaired, and new parts. Merriam-Webster offers a definition of “recycle” as: “to pass again through a series of changes or treatments: such as to process (something, such as liquid waste, glass, or cans) in order to regain material for human use.”


Neither remanufactured nor recycled could be completely applied to an original OEM new build cartridge. Yet such claims are in the public domain. One OEM’s website will tell you that its cartridges use recycled plastic combined with the plastic from plastic bottles. Detailed charts will tell you exactly how much is recycled content and how much plastic is post-consumer-based. The list of products is long and the message “More than 85% of Original [OEM] Ink Cartridges contain between 4% and 75% recycled plastic” appears frequently. 


However, it transpired that the IT manager in my conversation buys mainly toner cartridges. For toner cartridges, the message is equally compelling: “100% of Original [OEM] toner cartridges contain between 5%-45% post-consumer or post-industrial recycled content.”


A percentage of a percentage is the claim, and the OEM can be commended for clearly setting out its performance and efforts in detail for the reader to reach their own judgement. However, it is the headlining 85% (or even the 100%) number that is remembered and was recalled in my conversation. It’s not surprising that my IT manager was convinced he was helping the planet by buying only original cartridges. And he was not necessarily wrong, either.


Arguing for Remanufacturing: Reuse Before Recycle

ETIRA, the European trade body for the imaging supplies aftermarket, argues that the imaging supplies remanufacturing industry (around 20% of the global imaging supplies market) “is not just an industry—it is a manufacturing ethos of re-use, not just re-cycle.”


Remanufacturing is a practice extolled by the European Commission whose MEP’s have recently set out their right to repair demands for the industry. They said, “The ‘right to repair’ must encompass designing products that last longer and can be fixed, as well as labelling to better inform consumers and extending guarantee rights.” One interpretation could be that “percent of a percent recycled content” marketing claims can only have a limited future life.


Good News Is Coming, But…

There are examples of better practice in the OEM community. Brother Industries, for example,  have invested in highly automated remanufacturing facilities for many years. Toner cartridges are collected from the printer or MFP and enter a reverse supply chain that consolidates and leads to a centralized facility where robotics and artificial intelligence strip cartridges to their components, inspect for wear, clean, reassemble, and test before repacking for distribution and resale. Such a process, when implemented at a local level truly improves carbon footprint. It’s also a process that is better for the environment than shredding and separating after first use. This recycling methodology is heavily promoted on the Brother Recycling website and is commendable.


Keypoint Intelligence Opinion

It is unfortunate that marketing messaging purporting to promote a positive side of the industry may be distorting the reality of our customers’ well-intentioned behavior. Education is key at all levels and the fact that the concept of reusing is occurring, promoted, and recalled by customers is great. But please, let’s tell it like it is and not over-market the facts. Our customers and industry deserve better.


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