In 2004, First Environment was commissioned by the Hewlett-Packard Company (HP) to conduct a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) on an HP LaserJet print cartridge. The scope of the study was a comparison between an original HP LaserJet cartridge that was recycled through HP’s Planet Partners program and a representative remanufactured counterpart. First Environment’s life cycle team designed the study in accordance with the ISO 14040 series of standards, which includes significant testing of the sensitivity of different study parameters. This analysis was informed by a third party study that tested the performance of HP and remanufactured cartridges, which found that in general the HP cartridges provided better quality prints and a better page yield.
In the end, the results of the study determined that the total environmental impact of the HP product was neither decisively better nor worse than its remanufactured counterparts. Aside from life cycle solid waste generation - in which the HP cartridge performed better - all of the results were within a 20 percent margin of each other, with no clear trend towards either product. What did become clear from the results is that an emphasis solely on the reuse of materials in production does not ensure that it is the best choice environmentally speaking.
The study highlights the importance of the use phase (printing in this case), where print quality consistency and reliability have a significant effect on environmental performance, as well as the importance of material recycling programs for cartridge end-of-life. The study concludes - “Environmentally based decision-making regarding cartridges, whether original or remanufactured, should consider the cartridge’s entire life cycle, and most importantly, take into account the service it provides: reliable performance and the printing of usable pages.”