April 23, 2009

Soy Alternative Printer Cartridges

Soybean oil based toner may offer a cheaper, greener alternative to petroleum-based printer toner.

The potential benefits of soy toners are clear.  Soy based toners can cost less than the standard alternative, recycling paper printed with soy toner is easier, and soybeans are a renewable resource with a price more stable than oil.

In recent years, many newspapers, magazines, and book publishers have shifted to soy-based ink.

Early tests have shown little to no difference between standard toners and soy cartridges. 

According to Rick Greenlaw, PRC Technologies' vice president of marketing, his company's goal in creating SoyPrint soy toners was to make sure their soy product was cheaper than traditional toners.

"Our interest is in the person willing to go green as long as it doesn't cost them more. Period," he said.

LaserMonksGreen, a Web site operated by Cistercian monks of Our Lady of Spring Bank in Sparta, Wisconsin, says they make enough money selling SoyPrint toner to run their abbey and donate other profits to world hunger charities, and tree planting in Brazil.

The group sells cartridges that fit into HP printers at a price 20 percent lower than new HP cartridges.  Remanufactured HP cartridges can still be less expensive than SoyPrint cartridges.

Office Depot sells the Q5942X cartridge for $249, while SoyPrint sells an alternative for $181.  A remanufactured Q5942X with petroleum-based toner can cost $120.

Currently the soy toners are only available for laser printers.  A soy equivalent for ink-jet printers has not yet been developed.

Larger companies producing petroleum-based toners have not yet began to develop alternative cartridges.  The majority of these companies make much of their profit from ink and toner.

According to a statement released by Hewlett-Packard, bio-based materials "have not met HP's high-performance standards and may not be appropriate for many printing applications."

Lexmark International, another printer maker, said they are investigating soy and corn based resins.

PRC Technologies remains one of the primary suppliers for soy-based cartridges.  The company, which only provides cartridges for HP black-and-white laser-jet printers, plans to expand to other printer brands this summer, and is currently developing color cartridges.

Cathy Martin, a senior consultant with InfoTrends, questions whether buyers will trust soy-based toners in their expensive computer hardware.

According to Wayne Boyd, a 68-year-old San Antonio resident, the lower price of soy-based toners got him interested.  Environmental concerns only played a small role in his decision to try SoyPrint, he added.

"Right now money's more important than the environment," Boyd said.

"You can't eat clean air."


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