Why Paper Recyclers Fear Inkjet Growth

wall of paper for recycling photo

Image credit: Getty Images

If this were a wall of post-consumer inkjet printed papers, that man would be shaking in his safety boots. Here's why. Inkjets are tempting. The price tag may be hundreds of dollars lower than the price of the laserjets on display nearby. Also, the cartridges will set you back as little as $10, maxing out at about $40, compared to laserjet cartridges which start at $60 and go up to hundreds, if you buy the high yield versions. But that cheap up-front allure masks serious side effects. Cheaper inkjet cartridges have low page yields. That means more trips to the store for replacements. And more cartridge waste, or hopefully, cartridge recycling business which is a lesser evil but still not as good as long-lasting cartridges that prevent waste. Your inkjet will be begging to be fed after only a couple hundred pages. A dry toner cartridge in laserjet application will print thousands of pages, with some high yield cartridges printing 10 - 20,000 pages.

The old rule of thumb used to be that the cost per page would be higher with an inkjet. But the competitive situation puts that old logic to test. Led by Kodak, which has introduced cartridges for as cheap as $9.99 for black and $14.99 for color, the inkjet costs are coming down. A TreeHugger survey of 47 printers on the market as students return to school for fall semester 2008 with manufacturer suggested retail prices listed at under $500 shows:

  • 1.4 – 6.3 cents/page for monochrome laserjet printing
  • 9.9 –14.7 cents/page for color laserjet printing
  • 5.7 – 13.5 cents/page for color inkjet printing

But there is more to the story. An Inkjet Market survey suggests that the market for Inkjet inks is mature, but paper recycling firms reportedly fear the growth of inkjet printed papers in the post-consumer waste stream. With good reason: recycling inkjet printed paper is very hard. Dye-based inkjet inks separated from the paper during repulping are elastic globules, too large to remove by flotation but too flexible to separate by screening. Pigment based ink particles are simply too small to separate, and getting smaller as nanotechnology steps in to make your color printing brighter. In the words of the Print CEO Blog:

Even in small amounts, inkjet printed papers can spoil a load of recovered paper dedicated to be recycled for new newsprint or office papers. The current inkjet inks dissolve in the process water and dye it like a red sock (or here black sock) in the white wash. There it is the underwear that turns pink, here the fibers that turn so dark that the paper screened out of this broth will not meet any brightness specification any more.

Another strike against inkjet inks: the solvent-based inks release volatile organic carbons, which is not the case for dry toner. Although water-based inks are offered as green substitutes, this does not overcome the negative impact of the inkjet inks in the recycling stream.

The bottom line: laserjet printers are available now at relatively low cost. Although it will probably put you back a bit more than an inkjet, try to find an Energy Star certified laserjet to meet your printing needs. If you absolutely need the ability to print photos, purchase a printer dedicated to your photo production rather than printing all of your documents on a photo-capable printer. And whenever you can, go paperless. This will help ensure that the higher energy costs of your laserjet printer are minimized as well as saving forest resources.

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