About a month ago, I wrrote a column suggesting that we pick a single topic and work on it together during the year. I asked you to send me your recommendations about the issues we should concentrate on, and you have -- thousands of them. What's the vote so far? The front-runners are alternative energy and recycling issues.
Next week -- which just happens to be the first anniversary of EarthWorks -- we'll do a final tally and map out a plan of action. In the meantime, here's an unusual bit of recycling information I've excerpted from my forthcoming book, "50 Simple Things Your Business Can Do to Save the Earth."
The cartridge family
Many photocopiers and laser printers use plastic toner cartridges that must be replaced occasionally -- at $100 or more apiece. The more you print, the faster you use up the toner. But the plastic container doesn't wear out. It can be reused many times. The same is true for typewriter and printer ribbons. The ribbons run out, but the plastic casings are reusable.
A growing industry of cartridge recyclers (or "rechargers") has emerged to refill cartridges. In 1989, about 3,000 rechargers refilled 1.5 million cartridges. Rechargers disassemble the cartridge or ribbon casing, inspect it, replace worn or broken parts and clean everything. Then the toner is refilled or the ribbon replaced. Other companies "remanufacture" or "reload" new ribbons in used ribbon casings.
Refilling a toner cartridge costs about $50 -- about half the cost of a new one. Ribbons can generally be reloaded at about 40 percent the price of a new one.
A bonus: Because most new cartridges and ribbons are made in Japan, and most rechargers are local, recycling keeps jobs and money in the United States.
American businesses throw out 15 million plastic toner cartridges every year. Laser printer and copier cartridges weigh about 5 pounds each. That means about 40,000 tons of plastic cartridges end up in landfills each year, not including printer ribbon cartridges.
Besides saving trash, recharging also saves oil. The plastic used in printer cartridges contains about a half quart of oil. So recycling could save a million gallons of oil a year.
* Check a local computer magazine or look in the Yellow Pages under "Computer Supplies." Or contact the American Cartridge Recycling Association (ACRA), 1717 N. Bayshore Drive, Suite 2434, Miami, Fla. 33132; (305) 539-0701. It establishes standards for rechargers and can recommend a qualified one in your area.
* Even if you don't want to recharge, send your empty cartridges to Automated Office Products, 9700-A Martin Luther King Highway, Lanham, Md. 20766; (301) 731-4000. It will donate $1 per cartridge to the Nature Conservancy or the National Wildlife Federation. It also offers a recharging service.
Note: At EarthWorks Press, we've been recycling laser printer toner cartridges for a while and are quite happy with the results. But some printer and copier companies claim that if you don't use their factory-authorized replacement cartridges, it may void the warranty. Is it true? According to ACRA, it's not. For more information, give ACRA a call.