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Soy-Based Toner Cartridges? 389

Jon.Laslow writes "I'm getting a lot of pressure from managers to switch to soy-based toner cartridges for our laser printers because they are 'greener.' The problem is, the only information I can find on them is from sales pitches; and the reviews all seem to be user testimonials. Do you have any experience soy-based printing products? Did you have any issues with them, and how was the print quality?"
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Soy-Based Toner Cartridges?

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  • new to me (Score:5, Informative)

    by stoolpigeon ( 454276 ) * <bittercode@gmail> on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @01:04AM (#27826701) Homepage Journal

    To be honest, I hadn't even heard of this. This article [] says the very first cartridges just became available at the end of last year. Amazon has them [] but it looks they all come from one company (the one mentioned in the article I linked) and I couldn't find any reviews or comments. I did notice that as far as I can tell they are the only company selling soy based toner cartridges and they only sell them for HP right now - though I guess they plan to add others in the future. That may solve your issue right there though, unless you own the right printers.
    Interestingly enough the link in TFA doesn't seem to point to a company that does anything other than refurbish and refill toner cartridges with regular toner. Maybe I'm missing something but I don't see a thing about soy based toner. I'm sure someone will point me in the right direction on that if I'm mistaken.
    So I'd be interested as well in hearing if anyone has actually used this yet, but unless it has been an immediate disaster it doesn't seem that enough time has passed to tell how well it is going to work.

  • Did you search? (Score:3, Informative)

    by SigNuZX728 ( 635311 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @01:08AM (#27826733)
    On the first page of a google search for "soy-based laser toner" is a link to a Chicago Tribune article dated April 22. Check that out.
  • Re:Soy Printers ? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @01:13AM (#27826769)

    Uhhhh. Soy isn't corn.

  • they suck... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @01:21AM (#27826847)

    initial printouts were as dark as conventional toners. they did not match the darkness of original oem carts but were ok with our HP remanufactured carts in quality with oem toner.
    after 3-4 weeks we started to see fade. think thermal fax machine fading type fade. they dont last long with UV light exposure (basically sunlight hitting the laser printout). we've since stopped using em.

  • by ghinckley68 ( 590599 ) <> on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @01:34AM (#27826927) Homepage

    The drum is made of selenium that usually winds in land fills. They make ozone like crazy and when we are done with them we toss them out. Soy based toner totally pointless.

    Nope nothing green here move along.


  • Re:they suck... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @01:34AM (#27826935)

    BTW, we got ours from : []
    as noted in the FAQ the ink is easier to de-ink and recycle (cuz it comes off the paper easier) and yield is more since less ink sticks to the paper due to the high heat ability of soy inks. for temporary printing this is great. for offices - ok for some, not ok for others.
    see here : []
    Simpler and less capital intensive in the de-inking process (recycling)
    Higher yield - for many of the toner cartridges, soy ink yields 10% more pages


  • Re:Be Green (Score:5, Informative)

    by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @01:39AM (#27826963) Journal
    Most toner is made from oil: it takes about 1 million barrels of oil to supply the US with toner for a year. This is less than .1% of the oil the country uses. Obviously not a huge deal from that perspective.

    Soy toner has two things really going for it: first is, it's easier (ie cheaper) to recycle. Paper with soy toner is easier to recycle. Second, the cost is about the same as normal toner.

    I haven't actually seen it in use, so I can't say what it will look like, but if the quality is equivalent to that of carbon based toner, then there is no reason not to use it, and a few small reasons TO use it.
  • Re:What next? (Score:5, Informative)

    by WillKemp ( 1338605 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @01:51AM (#27827037) Homepage

    When i worked as an offset litho printer, back in the early 90s, we used soya bean ink. It was good stuff - and, as far as i remember, gave off less chemical fumes than standard ink.

  • Re:Be Green (Score:3, Informative)

    by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @02:09AM (#27827141)
    No, it isn't. Most toner has two major components: the pigment (which is often kept secret), and the binder. The drum is highly charged; the places where the toner is supposed to go are traced by the laser, which neutralizes the charge in those places. Then an opposite charge is applied, which deposits the toner on the paper electrostatically. Finally, the paper passes over the fuser (that hot roller at the end of the process), which melts the binder and permanently fuses it to the paper.

    The pigment is typically heavy on superfine carbon (lamp black), and the binder is typically made of polymer... which in turn is made from oil. But I highly doubt there is any oil per se in the toner.
  • Re:Ad absurdium (Score:5, Informative)

    by value_added ( 719364 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @02:25AM (#27827225)

    Want to go green? ... [snip list of recommendations that don't relate to the computer industry] ... When the ink jet containers themselves are made of soy, and the mfgs standardize their cartridges so that reuse is more feasible, I'll take notice.

    I'd offer the suggestion that increased attention on the part of consumers and manufacturers to the polluting nature of manufacturing computer parts (and petroleum products in general) is a step in the right direction. Or do you really think we can get somewhere without taking one step at a time?

    Anything that's used by individuals in small quantities may be insignificant, but taken as a whole, there's probably a incredibly large number behind the quantity that's manufactured. And then dump in our water or land.

    I'm no green nut, but seriously, loosen up. Soy ink? Why the hell not? The newspaper industry adopted it years ago, and while the formulation isn't exactly 100% natural, it was a step in the right direction.

  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @02:35AM (#27827263)
    You make a good point, even though toner is not at all like ink. The black in toner generally comes from carbon, and in order to make soy really black I think you pretty much have to burn it down until it is little more than carbon.

    So what's really the point?

    Soy-based newspaper ink makes some sense, because it is basically made from soy and vegetable oil, making it renewable and demonstrably non-toxic. But where does the carbon in regular toners come from? Possibly even soy, since it is cheap... but the manufacturers are not going to tell you because their formulas are secret. Also, soy-based pigment or not, the toner still has to use a binder, and those are usually made from polymer (plastic).

    What is being gained here? Sounds like a marketing gimmick to me.
  • Re:Ad absurdium (Score:3, Informative)

    by twilightzero ( 244291 ) <mrolfs AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @02:44AM (#27827317) Homepage Journal

    You are obviously an idiot. Allow me dissect:

    You build an extremely precise little box out of highly refined metals, circuit boards and PCBs, manufactured from parts made all around the world before being shipped thousands of miles to your local Staples, and you're worried about the half ounce of INK!?!?!

    You didn't read the parent, or if you did you didn't actually understand the question. INK DOES NOT EQUAL TONER. Get it through your head. One would expect someone reading Slashdot to know this, but apparently that's what I get for assuming. Toner cartridges for laser printers print thousands of sheets if not tens of thousands of sheets per refill. Quickest way to have an office budget go haywire is to have all printing done on inkjet, which is why it isn't done in the business world. Also toner cartridges, while relatively precise, are not all that complex and are generally extremely reliable, unlike their ink-filled counterparts.

    Want to go green? Use CFLs

    Of course, use CFLs. The same CFLs that contain large amounts of mercury. The same CFLs that cost an environmental cleanup crew $2000 to clean up [] if you break one and follow proper procedure. Mercury that one broken bulb can raise airborne mercury levels in your house to above safe levels. No thanks, I'll stick to incandescent and halogen until LED bulbs are consumer-ready.

    Replace your shower heads

    Depends highly on where you are and who you are. If you're in a dry place or have only people with short hair, low-flow or ultra-low-flow shower heads can be a great idea. But if you live in a wet area (Minnesota here, we have to work to keep the water out of our houses) or have long hair (rinsing out shampoo takes FOREVER without enough water flow) then it's probably not worth it.

    The rest of your points are relatively good, though the trees on the south side of the building will only help you in the summer, so only practical in temperate no-winter areas.

    RTFA, and think about your green-ness. Insulate your house more, that will help with both heating and cooling. Replace your old single-pane windows with low-e argon-filled high-R double pane windows. Install a pellet or other bio fuel furnace, though I wouldn't recommend corn since it's a food product whereas pellets and other options are industrial waste products. Or even better, install a geo-exchange system that will help both your heating and cooling. Ride a bike or drive a scooter. The point is, with anything look at the impact and difference you're making either way.

  • Re:How is it green? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @02:48AM (#27827331)
    You are misinformed.

    Soy ink is made from a non-food soy that is distinctly different from "regular" soybeans. However, that is used for the oil in the ink, not the pigment, and there is no oil in toner. So it is questionable just what they are doing with that soy in "soy-based" toner.

    In any case, back to the subject: you may be right about the soy crops, but the answer to that is simple: stop using Monsanto soy. That is not exactly rocket science.

    And as for the Roundup, it needs to be sprayed directly on plants, in order to be absorbed and do its work. Roundup is biodegradable in the extreme: it is broken down into harmless naturally-occurring chemicals shortly after it contacts the soil. That is why so many people found Roundup to be so frustrating: it would kill all the weeds in their yard, but even before they were completely dead, new weeds would start popping up. Because any roundup that did not touch a weed disappeared within a couple of days.

    I applaud your concern for the environment (and in particular the non-reproducing crop garbage that corporations have tried to pull), but you should do some research before willy-nilly pointing fingers.
  • Re:How is it green? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @03:04AM (#27827431) Homepage Journal

    At an ag-educated guess, the black pigment for "soy-based toner" comes from burnt soybean *hulls*.

    As to the phytoestrogens, some interesting reading that is backed by considerable research: []
    (Be aware that flaxseed meal has 3 to 4 TIMES as much phytoestrogen as soy, and is sufficient to be somewhat effective as a contraceptive, and to cause birth defects, when used in dog food.)

  • Re:Ad absurdium (Score:4, Informative)

    by wwahammy ( 765566 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @03:12AM (#27827471)
    Low flow shower heads help reduce the amount of hot water used in particular, not just plain old tap water. No matter where you live you're going to use some resources, usually fossil fuel based, to heat that water. Just because you have tons of rainwater, doesn't mean you/the environment won't benefit from your use of low-flow shower heads.
  • Re:Be Green (Score:5, Informative)

    by WillKemp ( 1338605 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @03:15AM (#27827493) Homepage

    "Virgin" paper does not come from beautiful protected forests, it comes from tree farms.

    Maybe you could explain the purpose of the woodchip mill at Eden, in the south east corner of Australia, then. Old growth forest is logged and then chipped in that mill and shipped to Japan to make paper. And i'm certain that's not the only place in the world where old growth forests are logged for paper production.

  • Re:How is it green? (Score:3, Informative)

    by profplump ( 309017 ) <> on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @03:16AM (#27827497)
    While crop seed companies definitely want to keep selling new seeds each year, it's not exactly some evil plan. The high-yield, high-resilience hybrids typically lose many of their benefits in the second generation, and not particularly by design (it's a nice side effect, but it wasn't something seed companies engineered).

    Not to mention that many domesticated annuals don't reproduce well in the first place. For example, corn would likely die out in a decade or so if we didn't spend lots of time and effort getting to to seed. And that's not some recent change due to big agribusiness, it's the result of thousands of years of genetic manipulation.

    I'm not saying big agribusiness doesn't do some nasty things, but the fact that they sell annual, domesticated crops that don't breed well is not the thing I'd use to point out their harm.
  • by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @03:37AM (#27827575)
    The biggest single difference you can make is to use the right technology. The most environmentally offensive laser printers use integral drum and toner combinations, with older HP machines being the worst of all - the cartridge is a large, heavy metal and plastic box that in theory is thrown away after a few thousand pages, and the toner is insignificant. As a simple example, I measured the contents of an 8000 page cartridge of an old machine once. The cartridge weighed about 1kg, and contained 150g of toner. Newer HPs still have the integral unit, but print perhaps 19-30000 pages on it, which is much better. On my current printer (not HP), the total weight of material that goes through the machine to print 18000 pages is less than that.

    You can improve on this dismal performance by getting a commercial recycling company to refill old cartridges for you, but after a couple of refills the drum is no longer as good as it was, and print quality starts to deteriorate (on the other hand, one drum may be able to print perhaps 50-60000 report printouts or similar.)

    Many of the more heavy duty printers use separate toner tanks and drums. This is far more effective at the expense of requiring an IQ in excess of 100 to replace toner. The drum unit may last from around 20000 pages on smaller machines to, say, several hundred thousand on a Kyocera. In Xerox printers I've looked at, the actual toner may account for more than half of the toner tank mass.

    Quite simply the best and most effective way to make your printing less environmentally offensive is to go over the entire estate, identify the older machines that use heavy cartridges with a short life, and scrap them. (this will piss off middle managers who probably have them on their desks, but then they wanted it in the first place.) Then do a little homework on actual needs and replace them with something more cost effective. Replacing individual printers with workgroup printers shared among 5-15 people (based on their workload) reduces the carbon footprint per page printed for more than anything else, and tinkering with toner won't be significant in comparison.

  • by Brett Johnson ( 649584 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @03:59AM (#27827681)
    So five minutes of googling and I find out the details of the use of the soy oil in producing the toner. The soy oil is indeed used to produce the polymer binder. From the article:

    "We identified an approach to use soy resins and polymers formulated into use for toners for office printers, faxes and copy machines," says Bhima Vijayendran, Battelle researcher. The research trial converted soybean oil and protein to a polymer, which was then processed into flakes or powder and mixed with pigments to create the necessary color." [][PDF]

  • Re:Be Green (Score:3, Informative)

    by WillKemp ( 1338605 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @04:02AM (#27827703) Homepage

    It's a dying industry because it's not sustainable. However, there are new pulp mills planned. Gunns are currently (controversially) building one in Tasmania. And i believe there's a new one being planned for Victoria.

  • Re:Ad absurdium (Score:5, Informative)

    by nog_lorp ( 896553 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @04:14AM (#27827769) []

    Everyone involved agrees a $2000 cleanup crew is ridiculous and should never have been recommended. It was never in fact used, as the person who broke the bulb couldn't afford it. There are now published cleanup instructions from various environmental agencies along the lines of "ventilate the room well".

    Per the WP article, []
    "CFLs, like all fluorescent lamps, contain small amounts of mercury as vapor inside the glass tubing, averaging 4.0 mg per bulb ...
    In areas powered by coal, CFLs end up saving on mercury emissions versus incandescent bulbs, due to the offset power use (coal releases mercury as it is burned). ...
    In the United States, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that if all 270 million compact fluorescent lamps sold in 2007 were sent to landfill sites, that this would represent around 0.13 tons, or 0.1% of all U.S. emissions of mercury (around 104 tons) that year."

    So, yeah, use CFLs.

  • by ewe2 ( 47163 ) <ewetoo&gmail,com> on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @04:57AM (#27827919) Homepage Journal

    Recycling the whole consumable is possible: [] actually uses toner to make a wood substitute among other things. They have agreements with many of the printer manufacturers. The aim is zero waste to landfill, and eventually to make printer/photocopier consumables totally recyclable in the sense of returning the materials back to their manufacturers.

  • The amount is minute (Score:5, Informative)

    by Kupfernigk ( 1190345 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @05:40AM (#27828071)
    I agree with your sentiment, but in fact the drum is coated with a thin layer that contains a small amount of selenium. Did you know that in many parts of the world poor soils have to be treated with traces of selenium because it is needed for plant growth?

    The selenium isn't the issue, just as the trace of mercury in CFLs isn't the issue, it's the wastefulness of putting the whole, nonbiodegradable thing into landfills.

  • Re:Ad absurdium (Score:3, Informative)

    by xaxa ( 988988 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @06:07AM (#27828163)

    That depends where you are.

    I'm in England. In the winter, British tomatoes can be grown in an artificially heated greenhouse, with not that much sun. Spanish tomatoes can grow in a naturally heated greenhouse. The Netherlands climate is the same as the UK, but they have a lot of greenhouses heated by "waste" heat from power plants.
    In all these cases, the distance isn't that great, and apparently Dutch or Spanish tomatoes have a lower CO2 production cost than British ones (and most British people won't buy British tomatoes in the winter, the article I read was questioning the "buy local" thing and gave it as an extreme example).

    In late spring and summer, British greenhouses don't need any heating, so that's obviously best.

    Two solutions:
    - Britain should build power stations where the waste heat (and CO2) is used for agriculture.
    - We should stop eating fresh tomatoes in the winter (as your professor did).

    I saw a sign a couple of weeks ago in my local supermarket "We apologise for the poor quality tomatoes. They are the end of the Spanish crop. Next week British spring tomatoes will be ready, and our usual quality will be restored". The country of origin is already marked on most fruit and vegetables, but it would be useful to have "in season in the UK" too (it's not that hard to work out though, the price changes).

  • Eh... (Score:3, Informative)

    by chazzf ( 188092 ) <`cfulton' `at' `'> on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @06:55AM (#27828367) Homepage Journal
    We tried this at my workplace and initial print quality seemed okay but the price was prohibitive compared to any perceived benefit. We didn't use them long enough to encounter any printout degradation like the anon above reported. A much better approach is to reduce printing overall to save paper.
  • Re:Ad absurdium (Score:5, Informative)

    by dna_(c)(tm)(r) ( 618003 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @07:25AM (#27828497)

    Soy ink? Why the hell not?

    Tackle the biggest issues first, the smaller issues become the biggest.

    For my personal context that means: car (100), heating (73), electricity (26), exotic food imports (3)...

    My next car will have about 25% more fuel efficiency, and if I drive 20% less distance I will bring the weighted score for my car to 60. Or a 20% improvement of my energy consumption (40/(100+73+26))

    Now, what would be the effect if I was planning on how to buy more environmental friendly toiletpaper? 0.001 points (haven't got any actual data to back that up), but worse, I would be side tracked and not tackle things that have a big impact.

  • Re:Ad absurdium (Score:3, Informative)

    by cyberprophet ( 1411663 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @07:26AM (#27828505)
    Home Depot along with a number of other retailers now accept CFLs for recycling. You no longer have to make a special trip somewhere to recycle your bulbs unless you never shop at these stores.
  • Re:Ad absurdium (Score:5, Informative)

    by MojoRilla ( 591502 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @08:48AM (#27829103)
    That is an urban myth. CFL's do require special cleanup, but is is a pretty simple process. See Snopes [] for more information.

    According to the EPA [], the amount of mercury released into the atmosphere every year is 104 metric tons, mostly created by coal fired power plants. Since most of the mercury is bound to the CFL bulb as it is used, even if every CFL that was sold in 2007 (290 million bulbs) were sent to landfill, it would only release .16 metric tons of mercury, or raise the US yearly amount by 0.16 %.
  • Re:Ad absurdium (Score:3, Informative)

    by Critical Facilities ( 850111 ) * on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @08:49AM (#27829115)

    the current crop of cheap CFLs are not green by any stretch of the imagination.

    Why not side step the CFL problem all together by using these? []

  • Re:Ad absurdium (Score:5, Informative)

    by sjames ( 1099 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:48AM (#27829897) Homepage Journal

    Power factor doesn't quite work that way. Power factor is not like an efficiency. A bulb with a power factor of .5 (terrible, but common for CFLs) doesn't ACTUALLY consume double the power that it would at a PF of 1. It DOES double the resistive losses in the wiring and so should be corrected, but that's not the same as doubling total energy consumption.

    It's a problem for power companies because most of the losses are incurred on their side of the meter so they don't get to bill for it.

    Note though, since a 60Watt equivalent CFL will be 14 Watts, even doubling it to 28Watts would leave you well ahead of the game.

    Longer term, whole house power factor correction is an option. Or the utility can add it per neighborhood. Finally, it could be added at the light socket. If the power companies start installing meters that measure power factor and providing billing incentives for correcting power factor (as they do for larger customers now), the power factor problem will be fixed.

    Even better, A major limitation of CFLs is that they must fit a majority of lamps and fixtures designed for incandescent bulbs. That sets an upper limit on the size of the electronics. In turn, that means they design the electronics with a limited life and make them disposable.

    Ideally, the electronics would be a separate long life module and the actual fluorescent tube would be the disposable part. Then it would be practical to include power factor correction in the electronics.

  • Re:Buy one... (Score:5, Informative)

    by n0-0p ( 325773 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @09:55AM (#27830013)

    Standard toner consists of a pigment suspended in a petroleum-based polymer. As such, toner has the environmental impact of any other consumable plastic, including off-gassing and the potential exhaustion of a non-renewable resources. The real problem, however, is that toner must be removed from pulp when recycling paper. The toner removal process uses toxic chemicals and produces a non-biodegradable and non-recyclable sludge waste product.

  • Re:Ad absurdium (Score:3, Informative)

    by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Tuesday May 05, 2009 @10:36AM (#27830637) Journal

    I'm a bit peeved at organic farming, because it is deliberately under-utilizing land and being purposely inefficient at creating one of the most precious resources on Earth: food.

    Deliberately under-utilizing land?

    That's a laugh. Organic yields are pretty close to non-organic yields; never mind the fact that it can just as easily be argued that current factory farming methods are deliberately over-utilising land in an unsustainable way (unsustainable due to the environmental impact which is often externalised as a cost).

    Please also note that the world currently produces more food than it needs; distribution is the problem.

    Furthermore, organic methods can actually increase yields in areas that are capital-poor but have a surplus of labor (which includes most areas where starvation is an issue).

Today is the first day of the rest of your lossage.