There are two main kinds of cartridges: inkjet and xerographic toner

There are two main kinds of cartridges: inkjet and xerographic toner. Both types
accomplish the same function, but in two very different ways. Xerographic toner printers use toner powder, whereas ink cartridges use liquid ink. Due to the differences in printing mediums, the mechanics of each cartridge are fundamentally different. These differences contribute to their varying cost and ability to be recycled.

Toner cartridges work by using three main parts: the toner hopper which holds the toner
powder, the developer unit which is an assortment of negatively charged magnetic beads, and a metal drum that the beads are attached to. The revolving drum coats the entire sheet of paper with a positive electric charge. Then a laser removes the positive charge in the places where the image is going to be printed, leaving behind a negatively charged electrostatic image. Since the toner contains compounds that carry a positive charge, namely iron oxide, the negatively charged beads pick up the toner from the hopper. As it is being rolled over the paper, the toner is attracted to the places where the laser created a negative image. Before the page is printed it out, it goes through a pair of heated rollers called a fuser which melts the toner onto the page (Harris, 2007).

This process allows for speed, economy, and efficiency—you are able to print more for the amount of toner purchased. Since toner is usually sold in larger quantities, however, its unit cost per cartridge is higher than that of ink. Inkjet cartridges are slightly more straightforward but the technology within the cartridge is equally as innovative as the toner cartridge. Within an inkjet printer, the ink is contained in an 26 airtight foil-lined compartment. As the cartridge deposits ink onto paper via small jets, the
airtight compartment volume decreases because of a vacuum effect. Within the cartridge there is a silicon chip with microscopic jets – small etchings in the chip that act as hydraulic jets – which are connected to a metal plate underneath the ink compartment. When electricity passes through the metal plate it superheats the silicon chip and a small droplet of vaporized ink is released through these small etchings.

A basic black inkjet cartridge for a small personal printer with 600 dots per inch (dpi) contains a matrix of about 300 jets and up to 14 jets can be fired in 22 different phases (Wandel, 2003). This process can create dots approximately 55 microns wide, smaller than a human hair. More jets can create a dpi up to 1440×720, surpassing the resolution of most toner cartridges. On a price per print basis, inkjet cartridges print higher cost prints that that of toner. The cost of an inkjet cartridge however, is less than that of toner
cartridges (Tyson, 2001).

Fun Recycling Facts

Here are a number of fun and interesting recycling facts:

  • It takes 80-100 years for an aluminum can to decompose (break down) in a landfill.
  • Aluminum cans can be recycled into: soda cans, pie plates, license plates, thumbtacks, aluminum foil, and many other items.
  • Recycling one aluminum can can save enough energy to power a tv for up to three hours.
  • In the year 2000, 13,500 aluminum cans were recycled every minute in California.
  • Glass takes over 1,000,000 (one million) years to decompose in a landfill.
  • Glass can be recycled into jars, jewelry, bottles, dishes, drinking glasses, coffee mugs and many other items.
  • It can take up to 700 years for plastic to decompose (break down) in a landfill.
  • PET plastic can be recycled into: clothing, fiberfill for sleeping bags, toys, stuffed animals, rulers and more.


Despite their best efforts, many towns and municipalities have been unable to coax their residents to recycle more than 30% of their waste stream [1]. The problem presented is twofold – some items can simply not be recycled – their design is inherently flawed; other items can be recycled, but it is not convenient to do so. These may be items which the town does not collect directly (batteries and e-waste often fall into this category), and may have to be sent to a transfer station for proper recycling.  Oftentimes, the consumer is away from home when the recyclable item is purchased and used – soft drink plastic bottles and aluminum cans are some examples.

It is important to recycle items even when it is not convenient. Each plastic bottle that is thrown out will spend eternity in a landfill – or worse, it may make its way to our rivers or oceans, where it will join with other floating pieces of plastic in the growing “oceanic garbage patches” which are now found in every ocean on earth.

Many towns, schools and organizations now use single stream recycling, or zero-sort waste to deal with their recyclables. This vastly increases the ease with which people can recycle – in addition, single-stream recycling usually accepts a greater variety of products.  Other tools to boost recycling include banning the pickup of recyclables in the trash, or charging for pickup of trash, while keeping recycling free.

Extended Producer Responsibility or EPR, puts the responsibility for recycling of products back on the companies that produced the product in the first place. This is an excellent practice, since it starts producers thinking about the end life of a product, as well as discouraging the practice of producing disposable or cheap goods.



Waste to energy means producing energy from burning trash, and is the least ideal option in our waste-management circle. If done intelligently, waste to energy plants can reduce the volume of garbage going into a landfill by 90% [1], and recoup some of the energy present in the trash. Irresponsible waste incineration, however, can make the toxins present in trash both more mobile and more lethal, further exacerbating the problem of what to do with what we throw away.

Waste to energy still sends some materials – usually ash – to a landfill, where most of our trash is still being buried. Landfills are fraught with environmental problems. These include household and industrial wastes leaking into the ground and contaminating our food and drinking water, the release of greenhouse gasses such as methane, and the permanent loss of valuable materials and nutrients – many of which were just recently dug up out of the ground. The limited and leaky nature of landfills only highlights the old adage – There is no such place as away.



  • Use both sides of your paper before recycling it.
  • Purchase used items when possible instead of buying new ones.
  • Have broken items repaired before buying a new item
  • Sell or donate items instead of throwing them away.
  • Encourage use of non-disposable plates, silverware, and glasses in your school or work cafeteria
  • Send old shoes back to companies like Nike to be reused


Americans produce a staggering 1600 pounds of trash per person per year. The majority of this trash comes from “durable goods” [1].  Durable goods are what we think of as “stuff” – radios, dvd players, toys, furniture, clothes – all the things that we buy which are often discarded before the end of their useful life.

Reusing materials contributes to a twofold gain – the item doesn’t head to the landfill andthere is no need to purchase a new product.  Furthermore, reusing an item is better than recycling because the process of recycling takes a good deal of energy.

The used clothing store, the second-hand bookshop, and the reclaimed building supply shop all are great examples of places to either purchase or drop off used goods. Often these options are both less expensive for you, as well as less expensive for the planet.