Why I’ll never use a third-party toner cartridge again

July 24, 20184 Minute Read

Staring at the clogged interior of what used to be a high-end office printer, I let out a long sigh. All I wanted was to save a bit of money, but now, I have a mess to clean up.

It all started when the CEO couldn’t finish a print job. “We need more toner, ASAP,” he said. “Don’t spend too much.” Following his command, I identified three choices for a replacement: the official toner cartridge for my printer and two unofficial cartridges with differing levels of quality in their branding and packaging.

With the CEO’s words echoing in my head, I decided to buy the higher quality of the two unofficial choices. Boy, was that a mistake. I spent less on an armful of toner cartridges but saddled myself with hours of extra work. Even though the packaging claimed compatibility with our printer, the third-party cartridges caused a ton of damage—to the point we may need to replace entire parts of the machine.

It runs through my head once more: All I wanted was to save some money.

Cheap office supplies can cost more than they save

I’ve worked in IT for a decade, so I know all the arguments against purchasing third-party toner cartridges. For example, they’re especially prone to jamming, forcing you to continually stop work and troubleshoot a clogged jet or a bent piece of plastic. Even so, I thought buying the cheaper toner was a bet worth taking—at worst, I’d have a few more help-desk tickets for printer jams—but I didn’t know the cartridges could break and spew toner all over the inside of my precious office printer.

Aside from the damage to our printer, our company relies on manufacturer warranties in these types of situations, but third-party cartridges, or seemingly “compatible” cartridges, often void the warranty if and when they break. In other words, I’m now stuck on my own when it comes to getting the printer up and running again, and that’s not exactly how I planned to spend my day.

Turn to toner cartridge recycling for sustainable printing

Regardless of manufacturer, there’s a reason toner gets locked away in thick, airtight plastic containers. The majority of chemicals going into toner are pollutants that should be kept out of the environment as much as possible—which flimsier third-party cartridges don’t tend to well. But the real issue involves recycling: More than 375 million ink and toner cartridges end up in landfills every year, allowing their chemicals to leach into our soil and water.

Many printer manufacturers have recycling programs in place for their official toner, but when it comes to third-party toner, you’re out of luck. You can refill third-party toner cartridges, but they stand up to fewer refillings because they’re typically not as sturdy as the real deal. To make matters worse, they can also ruin pages through uneven performance, leading to a greater end-of-life impact through toner release and greater consumption of paper due to reprinting. In our quest to always remain frugal, we ended up spending more and failed our commitment to sustainable printing.

Don’t skimp on printer toner—take it from me

Looking at my black-stained printer, I’m reminded of the—also unofficial—tutorials that assured me these off-brand cartridges would have no problem fitting into my printer. If by “no problems” they meant “require excessive force to insert so it eventually snaps in and breaks at the bottom corner,” then, yes, there have been no problems whatsoever.

Needing to buy a brand-new batch of cartridges after I fix the printer is a pain, but it will come with some upsides. With official branded toner, I won’t need to worry about print jobs with words missing due to clogs, and we’ll get more accurate measurements of toner, so we don’t end up throwing out cartridges with plenty left or getting blindsided when “full” cartridges turn out almost empty. This off-brand toner may have started out in working order—those that fit, that is—but these “compatible” cartridges didn’t keep working for long.

Know this: Official toner doesn’t need to equal expensive toner

I’m always trying to save money (and time) where I can, and after this mistake, I’ve certainly learned my lesson. Luckily, I never have to be in the position of scrambling for toner again with the help of an ink subscription service.

HP Instant Ink, for instance, is an ink subscription service that charges a monthly fee based on the number of pages we print, not how much ink we use. The plan could save us spend on toner in the long run, but it’s really the removal of the temptation to skimp that provides the most value for me. With this method, toner costs become reliable line items that executives can plan predictably, rather than a request for extra funds each and every time the toner runs out. That will help avoid being pressured into making shortsighted, “cost-saving” decisions.

Well, time to get back to repairing this mess in front of me. I’ll leave you with one thing I know for sure: I will never buy third-party toner ever again—and you shouldn’t either.

Disclaimer: This piece is a fictionalized account.

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