Commentary: What you don’t know about printer cartridges won’t hurt you

I think my new printer is a Republican because it is quite conservative. A few months ago, it told me I had only enough black ink for about 50 pages. Since then, I have printed hundreds and hundreds of pages, maybe thousands! Writers do a lot of printing.

When I think of how long I’ve been word processing — roughly 30 years — and how I dutifully changed out old cartridges for new as notified, I get to wondering. How many of those cartridges that I responsibly returned to the manufacturer for recycling still had good months in them?

Did they get recycled as “beginner” cartridges, the ones the machines come with, which run out before you’ve bought the standbys?

Or does the manufacturer take returned cartridges and shake bits and bunches of unused toner into a big dispenser to fill new cartridges? Or to fill the old ones to capacity and resell them to me?

I consulted the Internet.

Some returned cartridges are broken down into their component parts and reassembled, replacing worn parts with new ones. And some cartridges are refilled! Some up to 15 times before they peter out! Both are sold online as “remanufactured.” Buying them is discouraged for various reasons. But you can save up to 50% over new ones. And new laser toner cartridges cost a lot! Caveat emptor.

Depending on the cartridge type, you can get money back for each one returned, and not just the benefit points from the office supply store! Did you know that some companies pay up to $22? All you have to do is fill out a form online, and, well, that turned me off right there.

According to the chart, I would’ve gotten only $2 for mine. Heck. I could probably get more than that on the street in front of Office Depot.

Did you know that some printers sell cartridge refills?

Did you know that some charities benefit from selling used cartridges?

Feeling like Michael Moore, I sought out my printer manufacturer’s policy.

It doesn’t offer any money back. It does sell remanufactured, pre-owned equipment.

So what I got out of reading the manufacturer’s info is that new ink cartridges are 50% to 70% recycled plastic, and new laser toner cartridges re-use only 10% to 20%. Some cartridges can’t effectively be recycled because the cost exceeds the savings in raw product. It can take a thousand years for the parts to decompose.

Fine. I now feel greedy and guilty. Just because I like sharp text, I am a contributor to landfill abuse.

Thank goodness for those who sell refilled cartridges on the black market! I mean online.

Considering that (from what I read) a typical toner cartridge has a life of only 2,000 pages, and I’ve gotten that many since I was warned mine had only 50 pages left. I’ll bite the bullet and buy new. And I won’t begrudge my printer’s manufacturer the opportunity to recycle my cartridges, however they benefit.

But not until they’re really, truly empty.

LIZ SWIERTZ NEWMAN lives in Corona del Mar.