If you own a printer, whether for personal or corporate use, then you probably know how often you have to replace your ink or toner cartridge. The question is: do you throw it out with the rest of the trash or bring it to a supply company so that it can be recycled?
Ink and toner recycling programs have grown over the past couple of years as companies realize how much waste is incorporated into their consumable products. They all use proprietary designs in order to ensure that they are the only people making money off their printers; however, that means the product has absolutely no value once it is spent. Thus, they are trying to find ways to reuse the product without allowing them to be refilled by third party companies, because they do not want to share their profits with anyone else. The business is so lucrative for the major manufacturers that they can subsidize the production of their machines off the sales of their consumables.
Choosing between liquid ink and laserjet toner cannot be a decision based on sustainability, because both have proven to be inefficient. Recycling the cartridges is a great start for making them less damaging to the environment, but there will need to be a way to refill your cartridge (so you can use the same one indefinitely) before they will ever truly be sustainable. When compared to solid ink printers, for solid waste, there is absolutely no contest as to what method is most environmentally friendly.
Solid ink printers, like Xerox’s Phaser series, have the ability to control exactly how much ink is used (per page) in order to ensure that very little is wasted. That also allows people to know exactly how much they have left before they will need to replace their phaser solid ink sticks, which means that they will not have to buy more than is absolutely necessary for the operation of their machine. Solid ink printers are not without their downside, however. Unlike laser and inkjet printers, which only need energy while they are printing, solid ink printers require a constant flow of power to keep the roller hot in order to allow it to print on a moments notice. If the roller cools down then the machine must jettison a small portion of the ink stick in order to ensure a smooth even distribution of the ink for the next print job.
You have to realize that no form of printing is truly sustainable. It is up to you to decide to make the most of whatever form of printing you use, in order to make a difference in the impact it will have on the environment.