Supply Chain and Environmental Sustainability: Do you know where your aftermarket printer cartridges come from?
There are countless articles being written these days about the ways companies are improving their environmental footprints on the world, from PepsiCo reducing its use of plastics to Goodyear's journey to a zero-waste landfill. But have CPOs thought of the impact illegally-cloned Chinese printer toner cartridges have on the environment or on their supply chain? Probably not.
According to the National Office Products Alliance, since the early 2000s, Chinese companies have been producing illegally cloned technology products, including but not limited to, printer toner cartridges. These illegal cloned cartridges made their way into the US Marketplace fairly easily, especially when they came over for pennies on the dollar, and were sold by dozens of distributors across the country as "new builds". Thankfully OEMs like Canon, HP and Lexmark took these companies to court for IP infringement, and won in most cases. Canon most recently sued over 50 resellers of these Chinese-made cartridges as they were exact duplicates for many toners that Canon holds HP patents rights on. Amazon has also been removing these resellers off their own marketplace too. However, remanufactured toner cartridges which reuse the outside cartridge shell, do offer end users with a safe, IP-clear, and reliable alternative to the more expensive OEMs.
There is also a huge environmental impact when using these illegal Chinese cloned cartridges too that many people have not even thought of. These "new builds" are made with inferior grade plastics that do not have the same durability or integrity as OEMs or remanufactured cartridges - if the integrity of their cartridges fail you end up with toners that leak. Tests have been performed that show that these "new build" Chinese cartridge shells contain a fire-retardant material called DecaBDE as well as Styrene which are currently banned in many European countries and several US States as they are known carcinogens.
In addition there are other health and safety issues with these Chinese toners too. In an OEM or remanufactured cartridge the toner powder consists of pigment, polymer, wax, charge control agent, bulk additives and surface additives. In the Chinese products, the toner powder contains cheaper raw materials that have impurities in them, such as VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds). Such materials can be released into the office environment during the fusing/fixing stage of the print process. As the toner powder is transferred from the photoconductor to the paper is heated during the print process, any VOC content of the toner is volatilized and exhausted from the print engine by the machine cooling system through the exhaust fans and into the office space in which it is being operated. What this means for you, is that you are breathing in these toxic VOCs!!!
There is light at the end of the tunnel though, as the small handful of good third-party cartridge manufacturers are producing some high quality remanufactured ink and toner cartridges - some performing their own R&D and independent lab testing before releasing new product to market, all to ensure their cartridges produce the same high quality prints and page yields as the OEMs - just without the exorbitant costs. The good ones provide a great warranty, educate their customers that use of third-party cartridges will not void their manufacturer warranty, and also ensure they are not violating patent laws and are "fully IP-cleared". Remanufactured cartridges also help reduce waste in our environment as they save 27 million pounds (12.3 million kgs) of industrial grade plastic and 73 million quarts (69.5 million liters) of oil from ending up in our landfills.
From a supply chain stand point, it's more important now than ever before to KNOW where your printer cartridges come from so your source of the supplies you use every single day is not disrupted if you find these illegal Chinese products under your roof. And if you think e-commerce giants like Amazon, Walmart eBay are watching out for you as a consumer - think again. No longer is pleading ignorance acceptable - accountability is everything.
At the end of the day, there is room for savings on inkjet and toner cartridge supplies - it's just a matter of finding a reputable source who builds a great product and whose values are aligned with your own.