What you need to know about remanufactured ink and toner cartridges
What are remanufactured cartridges?
Remanufacturers collect the empty ink or toner cartridges made by the printer companies, clean and refill them, and replace critical parts to give the cartridge a greater chance of working properly when it’s inserted into the printer.
It’s the replacement of these parts that distinguish remanufactured cartridges from refillers. In most instances, remanufacturers will replace (or at the very least, clean) the imaging drum inside toner cartridges, while “drill and fill” merchants will merely top up the toner.
Microchips embedded in the cartridges may also have to be replaced. Sometimes chips are used by manufacturers to try to prevent cartridges from being reused, while often remanufacturers will substitute the chip to effectively trick the printer into thinking it’s a brand-new official cartridge.
Remanufactured ink cartridges are distinct from clones or compatibles, which don’t reuse old cartridges but mimic the design of the official ink cartridges, offering zero benefit to the environment and often infringing on the printer manufacturer’s intellectual property.
One of the dangers of buying a remanufactured cartridge is that it won’t always be obvious what you’re buying.
Are remanufactured cartridges the same quality?
The short answer to this is, inevitably, no. Manufacturers invest millions, if not billions, of dollars into research, so they’re clearly going to be at the top of the tree when it comes to outright quality and reliability.
An HP-commissioned study by Four Elements has tested this theory, the results of which found that one out of four pages output with remanufactured cartridges needed to be reprinted to be judged of sufficient quality for its intended use. This compares to one in fifty for genuine HP toner.
This shouldn’t be too surprising. Remanufactured cartridges will include some old components, while the toner inside them will be from a third-party, rather than the printer manufacturer itself.
Are remanufactured cartridges as reliable as the genuine item?
Again, there’s an air of inevitability about this: if a cartridge is being used for a second or third time, with replacement, non-genuine parts, then it’s more likely to fail than the original.
Quality Research investigated this back in 2010 and claims that 38.9% of non-HP cartridges available within Europe exhibited some sort of problem. Among the problems cited by the report were cartridges being dead on arrival or suffering an early end of life; that is, they produced fewer pages than specified.
By comparison, no HP cartridges suffered any sort of problems within the test.
Are remanufactured cartridges greener?
This is a frequent claim from the remanufacturing industry: that reusing toner cartridges is “greener” than recycling them through manufacturers’ schemes.
On the surface this may seem to make sense, and certainly if you look at the energy and resources needed to simply produce one new cartridge and one remanufactured cartridge the latter wins.
However, things are never that simple, and this is in part down to the lower print quality of remanufactured toner cartridges. “Paper continues to be the main source of printing’s environmental impact,” concludes the Four Elements report, “and cartridge print quality plays a significant role in paper consumption.”
In other words, if your users are printing 25% more pages then you need to factor that into your green calculations. According to the report, the “poor print quality performance [of remanufactured cartridges] results in a higher environmental impact in five of the categories measured while three were on a par relative to the original HP cartridge”.
The problems with remanufactured ink cartridges
The variability of print quality is a concern with remanufactured cartridges. In independent tests, and in the experience of PC Pro readers, banding, poor colour accuracy and fade-resistance have all been identified as issues that concern refilled cartridges. Poorly remanufactured cartridges may simply fail to work when inserted into a printer – something of which many readers have had first-hand experience.
The reality is that relying on remanufactured cartridges involves an element of risk. Whether you’re willing to tolerate that risk is entirely up to you.
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