A toner cartridge, also called laser toner, is the consumable component of alaser printer. Toner cartridges contain toner powder, a fine, dry mixture of plastic particles, carbon, and black or other coloring agents that make the actual image on the paper. The toner is transferred to paper via an electrostatically charged drum unit, and fused onto the paper by heated rollers during the printing process.
Low-end to mid-range laser printers typically contain two consumable parts: the toner cartridge itself (which has a typical life of 2,000 pages) and the drum unit (a typical life of 40,000 pages). Some toner cartridges incorporate the drum unit in the design and therefore replacing the toner means replacing the drum unit every single time, although some consider this type unessential and therefore not cost-effective. Toner Cartridges are similar to ink cartridges, which are used in Inkjet printing.
Toner cartridges can be expensive, sometimes exceeding the cost of cheaper laser printers. As a result some people dispose of the printer when it is out of toner (thereby negating any "green" or "eco friendly" claims made by the manufactures) and replace the entire machine. Ironically, new machines generally come with toners that are only ⅓ full. Consumers also can opt to buy generic brand laser toners, manufactured by companies other than the printer manufacturer. These toners are widely available at a fraction of the price of the genuine brand replacement. Toner refill kits are also an option, allowing the consumer to simply refill an empty cartridge.
Genuine — also known as "original equipment manufacturer" (OEM) are cartridges sold by the printer manufacturers. Manufacturers offer certain guarantees when you use genuine brand toner in your printer and makes certain threats if you don't, voiding warranty is a typical accusation made, although in many countries this is illegal (Chapter 50 › § 2302› Literal C of Magnuson-Moss Warranty Improvement Act. makes this illegal in U.S. ). Genuine cartridges are more expensive than refills, compatibles or re-manufactured cartridges, however you can reduce the difference in price dramatically by purchasing cartridges from a specialist retailer.
Compatible — also known as "generic" or "alternative brand" are cartridges are manufactured from scratch, they are not used cartridges that have been refilled or re-manufactured. They are produced by third party companies and sold under different brand names. Often compatible cartridges may vary slightly in look, design and page yield to their genuine counterparts due to certain patents that restrict the exact copying of designs. Although these generic cartridges may be less reliable, they may be a cost-effective alternative to the genuine article. They can also be manufactured to contain more ink than the OEM versions, depending on the design of the cartridge itself.
Remanufacturing involves a process by which the toner in an OEM or compatible cartridge which has been used only once is refilled. Any worn or defective parts are replaced and the cartridge is cleaned then it is refilled with toner. The remanufacturing process differs from one factory to another, as well as the quality of toner that the cartridge is filled with. These are important factors to take into account when purchasing re-manufactured toner cartridges because they can ultimately lead to leaking, printer malfunction, or even damaging the printer altogether.
Remanufactured, compatible, OEM and refilled toner cartridges are available from a variety of sources. While compatible and OEM cartridges are typically items that can be purchased off-the-shelf, companies that offer remanufactured cartridges typically require the customer to provide an empty cartridge, which is then remanufactured and provided back to the customer.
Although the remanufacturing process relies on there being an empty cartridge available, some companies (a handful of larger chain stores) are able to offer remanufactured cartridges off-the-shelf in the same manner that OEM and compatible cartridges are purchased. This is a factor of their size and volume which allows cartridges to be remanufactured centrally in bulk and later inventoried at store level to be picked up as an off-the-shelf item by the consumer. Worldwide, not many companies make empty cartridges. They buy the used cartridges from users through the scrap dealers, refurbish them and keep them ready for sale.
Each brand new toner cartridge requires the burning of over 2 quarts of petroleum in the manufacturing process. In North America alone, more than 200 million litres of petroleum are used to sustain the production of new toner cartridges with the majority of these cartridges ending up in the worlds landfills once empty. Manufactures have responded by developingrecycling programs for their used cartridges. On August 1, 2011 Hewlett Packard issued a press release showing their recycling process involves a partnership with an Asian firm that reuses plastic collected from the empty cartridges.
Advocates of more environmentally friendly processes claim that using refilled and remanufactured toner cartridges are much more environmentally friendly than using brand name new cartridges. Refilled and remanufactured cartridges reduce the dependency on petroleum that otherwise would have been used in the manufacture process of the new cartridge. Advocates[who?] also claim that the recycling programs devised by manufacturers are not always as environmentally friendly as consumers might think or in comparison to other options that may be available.
HP's recycling program involves the recycling of cartridges in partnership with a company in Asia. The process uses significant amounts of petroleum in the collection of empty cartridges on one continent and in transporting them half way around the world to be recycled.
Lexmark also has a similar program which they claim is in place to assure that as many empties as possible are collected and reused. This is known as Lexmark's return program, formerly the Prebate return program. In this model the toner cartridges, so-called prebate cartridges, are always owned by Lexmark and consumers purchase the right to use the cartridge until empty. Once empty, Lexmark requires that the cartridges are returned to Lexmark. The consumer pays a lower price if they agree to return the cartridge.
Opponents[who?] claim that since empty prebate cartridges are "owned" by Lexmark; and since Lexmark expressly forbids the remanufacturing or recycling of the cartridge by anyone other than themselves; and since third party remanufacturers cannot therefore remanufacture the empty cartridges; and since the majority of cartridges are never returned to Lexmark, the result is that the prebate program actually ensures fewer cartridges are recycled and customers are more often required to purchase brand name OEM cartridges.