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Bring on the empty cartridges

HP hails green leadership

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Printer consumables are HP's great cash cow, accounting for up to half of the printer and imaging division revenues and the lion's share of profits.

And no wonder when inkjet ink is sold at the equivalent of £1,700 a litre - seven times the price of Dom Perignon.

And no wonder that HP has chased down Taiwanese clone inkjet cartridge makers through the courts on both sides of the Atlantic, and that it, in common with other printer manufacturers, is so keen to stop people from using refills.

The technology in printer cartridges explains some of the expense borne by consumers. But there is nothing in this technology which means that a new cartridge should be installed each time the ink runs out.

But the printer makers, HP, Lexmark and Epson, argue that recycling the cartridges is the environmentally responsible action. Indeed this argument is advanced by Lexmark in its suit against Static Control Components (SCC)as a reason for stopping the production of chips that enable third party toner cartridges to work in its printers.

HP, meanwhile, is tying in its US customers a little closer by stuffing postage-paid recycling envelopes in the packaging boxes of their new HP 576 and 57 print cartridges. The returned cartridges are reprocessed into raw materials for use in new consumer products. The fact that HP can even contemplate such a scheme shows yet again just how much profit margin there is in inkjet cartridges.

According to HP, this trial service, announced today, "builds upon HP's environmental leadership in the return and recycling of printing supplies".

How so? A company of HP's size and environmental leadership has undoubtedly conducted the full environmental audit - petrol consumed by US Post, energy consumed when crushing cartridges etcetera versus landfill dumping. And such a scheme neatly fulfils its legal responsibilities for waste disposal. Best of all, each cartridge returned to HP is one less cartridge in the hands of the third party refilling companies.

But which ever way HP does the math, there is no way that the supposed benefits of post-to-scrap-morph into rubber duck-recycling can outgreen the simple inkjet cartridge refill.

So here is a case where recycling makes damn good economic sense, if of little use to the environment. The time we hear the printer manufacturers trumpet environmentally responsible re-use policies is the time that we know that the regulators have won. And the time that HP's profits start tumbling down the landfill. ®

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