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 user 2005-05-25 at 12:26:00 pm Views: 52
  • #9780
    Ink cartridge refurbishers compete for


    David Wood makes a good living by asking people for their empties — empty
    printer cartridges, that is.

    To make his business pay, Wood does a lot of asking.

    Every three months, he visits about 345 schools and as many as 20 churches
    across his home state of North Carolina. He also phones about 15 schools a day,
    as well as several Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops.

    These schools, churches and other non-profit groups comprise Wood’s
    grass-roots army of collectors, helping him gather a total of about 9,400 empty
    inkjet and laser cartridges a month.

    He pays an average of $2.50 for each inkjet cartridge. Then, his Raleigh,
    N.C., business, called Kartridges for Kidz, resells the empties for an average
    $5.50 apiece to remanufacturers who will recondition them, refill them and offer
    them for sale at 30 percent to 50 percent less than new brand-name

    “I’m basically asking for other people’s trash, which is the beautiful thing
    about this,” says Wood, whose business brings in monthly revenue of about

    Wood is part of a growing cadre of cartridge brokers that helps non-profit
    groups raise funds, encourages recycling and supplies a network of mostly small
    remanufacturers that offer consumers a lower-cost option for running their

    It is a win-win proposition in many respects, except for the big printer
    makers such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and Lexmark International Inc.

    Brokers such as Wood and the remanufacturers they supply are pinching the
    printer giants, which rely heavily on profits from repeat sales of new
    cartridges. The printer companies also are beginning to feel a squeeze from
    office-supply outlets that sell do-it-yourself refill kits, and chains such as
    Cartridge World and Island Ink-Jet, which are setting up across the nation as
    cartridge-refilling stations for consumers.

    In the past five years, the share of the global ink-jet-cartridge market held
    by remanufactured cartridges has risen from 14 percent to 17 percent, says
    imaging-industry tracker Lyra Research. Lyra expects that to rise to 24 percent
    by 2008, even though Consumer Reports and other consumer watchdogs consider
    remanufactured cartridges inferior in quality.

    Lexmark, H-P and others have responded by suing some remanufacturers for
    patent infringement or other alleged offenses. They also encourage consumers to
    return used cartridges for recycling by packaging post-paid return envelopes
    with new cartridges.

    Lexmark offers a return program that gives customers a discount on new toner
    cartridges if they agree to return the empty cartridges only to Lexmark.

    “Among many of our largest accounts, our return rate is in excess of 80
    percent,” the company said in a statement.

    John Solomon, a vice president in H-P’s imaging division, says the company is
    trying to help the environment, not thwart remanufacturers. “We welcome
    competition,” he says. Solomon calls the cartridge collectors “a cottage
    industry” and says that while H-P’s own cartridges are more expensive, they are

    Remanufactured cartridges, which typically are identified as recycled or
    compatible replacements for name brands, can be bought online and are sold by
    office-supply chains.

    Demand for empty cartridges — sometimes called “cores” — is skyrocketing. A
    used black-ink cartridge for an inkjet printer can fetch an average of $5 from a
    remanufacturer, up from $3 a year ago, according to Lyra. Research firm
    InfoTrends/CAP Ventures expects Americans to go through 86.5 million laser-toner
    cartridges and 604 million inkjet cartridges this year.

    Cartridge brokers are mobilizing their collectors to hunt for these cores.
    Only “virgin cores,” or cartridges that have been used just once, are considered
    worthy of remanufacturing. Because good-quality cores aren’t easy to find,
    brokers are often willing to pay handsomely — in some cases more than $20 for a
    used laser-printer cartridge.

    Schools and other non-profit organizations welcome the extra money.

    “Since September, we’ve brought in $1,100″ from pooling used printer
    cartridges, says Pat Sherrard, a part-time teacher at Sts. Simon and Jude School
    in Louisville.

    The funds go toward new equipment for the school’s computer lab, says
    Sherrard, who collects about 50 used printer cartridges a month.

    As competition for used cartridges intensifies, brokers are more aggressively
    recruiting schools and other institutions.

    FundingFactory, owned by recycler Environmental Reclamation Services Inc. of
    Erie, Pa., has put together a sophisticated system of points that participants
    can earn for empty cartridges. The points can be redeemed for cash or goods from
    retail partners. Other brokers are showing up at educational conferences to
    recruit new collectors or are advertising in Parent Teacher Association

    Judy Quinn, a technology coordinator at the 1,860-student Massaponax High
    School in Spotsylvania County, Va., says cartridge brokers fax her recruitment
    letters every week.