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The right tone for remanufacturing printer cartridges

Printer cartridges

In its submission to the European Commission’s consultation on the circular economy (CE), Lexmark called for legislative and regulatory changes, urging the EU to support a range of measures to curb waste and encourage reuse and recycling.

The company sees these changes as necessary not only to encourage the collection, reuse and recycling of printer cartridges in Europe, but also to allow companies that apply good environmental practices to compete on fair terms with those that do not.

The empty toner cartridges market is a competitive one. Many collectors and third-party remanufacturers collect only the ‘best seller’ cartridges that have not yet been reused.

EU member states should be encouraged to consider the introduction of financial incentives and subsidies to support the return of products for recycling or reuse. Lexmark wants EU action to require:

  • All suppliers provide a free take-back facility for cartridges they place on the European market
  • All printer cartridges sold in Europe by 2020 to include 50% remanufactured components or be recyclable
  • Compulsory environmental criteria to be introduced into public procurement requirements where they relate to printer cartridges
  • Remanufacturing and recycling of products to be promoted by user labelling intended to guarantee quality operating performance
  • Disposal of printer cartridges to landfill or incineration without energy recovery to be made illegal, and incentives for suppliers to collect and reuse their products

A recent Lexmark study found that 30,000- 50,000 tonnes of printer cartridges are landfilled each year as a result of the industry’s poor rate of collection from customers. Landfill disposal and incineration are the least desirable options, and the company follows a zero-landfill and zero-incineration policy for all used cartridges it collects. Of the empty cartridges returned to Lexmark, 100% are either reused or recycled.

To drive more businesses to adopt a circular model, the company has launched the Lexmark Cartridge Collection Program (LCCP) app (see box below). The initiative allows customers to return printer cartridges for free, enabling them to contribute to the CE, and is designed to be a convenient method of recycling materials that could otherwise end up in the bin.

The concept behind a CE is one that Lexmark has supported since the company was founded in 1991, and the remanufacturing of printer cartridges is at the core of its business strategy. The competitive advantages of adopting a CE approach are to make a contribution towards sustainability and eco-responsibility, obtain a level of product performance at a lower raw materials investment level, and offer assurance that the product is of a high quality and offers the same performance as all Lexmark’s cartridges.

By providing free collection services in more than 60 countries, Lexmark has been able to increase dramatically the use of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content in its cartridges. The company has a cartridge collection rate of up to 40% against an industry standard thought to be less than 20%.

Remanufacturing is a core part of Lexmark’s business. By 2018 it aims to reuse 50% by weight of returned cartridges, up from an industry-leading 34% today. Through the reuse of resources and the economic boost this can provide, in the long-term Lexmark will achieve a significantly lower net spend on materials.

The effects of this have been welcomed by customers, with the costs of packaging materials, for example, being reduced by recycling and reuse. More specifically for Lexmark, using recovered materials in its printer cartridges means less resource extraction, less additional processing and lower supply chain impacts.

Lexmark believes that businesses must not think of the CE as a ‘quick fix’ but an opportunity to achieve long-term goals. Companies looking to reap such benefits need a plan beyond going circular – they must look at how such a model will fit their own issues and work with them to create value.

Customers need to see the same high quality in products manufactured with PCR plastic content as virgin plastic. Lexmark’s recycled cartridges are subject to the same quality tests and warranty as those with all-new components. And most of the supplies for its product range that are consumed in the EU are also produced in the EU (in Poland), including its corporate cartridges.

By simplifying the collection procedure, the LCCP enables businesses to improve their recycling experience while helping them to contribute to the building of the CE through the reuse of cartridge content.

Lexmark has a continued objective to build on the success of the LCCP and market attitudes towards remanufactured cartridges by making the process as fast, effortless and low cost as possible for the end user.

Despite the ubiquity of plastics in IT equipment and efforts by product designers to aid recovery through design-for-recycling principles, the plastics recycling rate is low and highly engineered plastics are often downcycled.

In the past 10 years there has been some shift in the IT industry to use more recycled materials and curb resource use. But the complexities of recycling plastics at end-of-life and getting them back into the supply chain have posed a challenge for the industry.

Demand for post-consumer, recycled content plastic has increased in recent years, particularly in Asia and Europe. If this continues it could affect its availability, so producers must diversify their sources of sustainable materials. There is also need to aid the recycling of engineered plastics that is arising from the IT industry itself.

Regulatory requirement and targets are driving up the collection of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) in all parts of the world. Some countries have better infrastructure than others to do this. To translate the increasing volume of collected WEEE to responsible recycling and preserving resources, manufacturers can play a major role by shifting towards the closed loop CE model. This will incentivise recyclers to collect, sort and recycle plastics to meet manufacturers’ demands.

Having printer cartridges included in the recast WEEE Directive is a first step in the right direction to reducing reliance on landfill. Clone cartridges (newly built compatibles), which generally offer no end-of-life solution, will also fall within scope of the Directive. Producers of such cartridges will be required to register with authorised schemes and report against all applicable obligations. This is good for the environment as it ensures businesses will meet their specified obligations.

By convincing Lexmark customers to adopt a managed print services (MPS) approach, they enable the manufacturers to keep investing in closed loops by easing access to the resource.

Lexmark has been deploying MPS to large enterprise businesses for more than 16 years, and is committed to helping its customers reduce unnecessary paper use and energy. Its MPS not only enables the existence of corporate cartridges and remanufacturing, but also creates direct and indirect jobs in the EU through the relocalisation of production lines in Poland.

The company has built on this experience to develop a specific programme to help smaller companies benefit from the same services and environmental benefits.

Ambitious individual collection schemes will help to improve the industry’s collection rates from customers. Original equipment manufacturers seeking to collect their products for reuse should gain the prerogative to insist they are separated from the waste stream.

The Lexmark cartridge collection program app

In 2014, Lexmark customers returned up to 40% of the total toner cartridges shipped to them worldwide.

The company’s aim is to streamline recycling processes so that it requires little investment in time or money – an attractive prospect for any business – while offering an efficient means of contributing to the CE by encouraging reuse.

Lexmark’s collection process is arranged directly through the LCCP which includes various methods of return.

The app allows customers to order recycling containers for their premises and scan a QR code on these to request a free collection. It also allows ordering of the Ecobox, a smaller format, postage paid recycling container targeted at small-to-medium sized businesses.

Customers who sign up to the LCCP and agree to return their printer cartridges directly to Lexmark for remanufacturing or recycling benefit by being able to purchase ‘return programme cartridges’ which are sold at a discount on the regular price.

Maxime Furkel is head of government affairs, Lexmark, EMEA

The right tone for remanufacturing printer cartridges

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