UBC Undergraduate Research

An investigation into printer toner cartridges : a triple bottom line analysis of remanufactured, OEM and compatible cartridges Eichorn, Jordan; Leson, Amy; Kilpatrick, Angus; Rideout, Bryan


The following report outlines our triple-bottom line (TBL) analysis of printer toner cartridges as it applies to procurement at the University of British Columbia. The request for an investigation was brought forward by Faiza Wilson and Paula Goldspink of the UBC Payment and Procurement Strategic Sourcing group. In contrast to typical bottom-line accounting, which only considers net economic profit or loss for decision making, triple-bottom-line analysis also takes environmental and social factors into account. Three alternatives of toner cartridges are included in this investigation. Original equipment manufacturer (OEM) cartridges are purchased new from “brand-name” companies such as Hewlett-Packard or Brother. “Remanufactured” cartridges are produced by a dedicated remanufacturing company, such as Digitech, which collects used OEM cartridges and replaces worn out components and toner. Finally, “compatible” cartridges are manufactured new by a third party to work with OEM printers. In terms of up-front cost, “compatible” cartridges are by far the cheapest option. However, the 3rd party manufacturers are always based overseas and violate patent and copyright laws; producing products that appear to be OEM but exhibit poor reliability and quality. A failed cartridge can seriously damage a printer and that risk is a major disadvantage of “compatible” cartridges. Remanufactured cartridges were found to be 10-30% cheaper, and exhibit equal or higher quality, than OEM products. The environmental benefit of a remanufactured cartridge is that it reuses most of the components of an OEM cartridge, whereas a “compatible” cartridge is too low of quality for reuse. This reuse spreads the grams of CO₂ and kilograms of material used over an average of 3.5 cycles. Because of the wide range of processes labelled as “remanufacturing”, it is difficult to draw conclusions on the entire industry with regards to recycling. However, Hewlett-Packard (OEM) and Digitech (Remanufactured) were specifically considered and found to have admirable recycling practices, with Digitech using relatively local facilities. Social aspects were found to be the biggest barrier to more sustainable practice at UBC. Despite Digitech having an existing relationship with UBC BuySmart, none of the survey respondents were aware of the company. Digitech’s local facility and recycling partnerships align well with UBC Sustainability strategies, and free drop-offs and pickups are extremely convenient. The HP “Closed-loop” program requires a local drop-off. As a result of this investigation, it is recommended that Digitech, or a similar quality remanufacturing company, be promoted to departments for toner purchases. Furthermore, well placed disposal collection points will ensure more cartridges are reused or properly recycled. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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