Online Sites Pay Big Bucks For Empties — Well, Certain Empties
- By Charles Brewer
- Jun 01, 2012
It has often been said that empties are the lifeblood of the remanufacturing industry. No empty, no reman — it’s that simple. In the past, the demand for this most precious raw material was largely met. These days, however, it appears demand for empties is outpacing the supply. Last year, I wrote a series of articles for Recharger (“Who’s Draining the Empties Pool?”) that detailed how over the past five or six years, the availability of empties has become increasingly scarce. And as a result, the price of empties has skyrocketed.
There can be an upside to the empties situation if you have access to the right SKUs and you know where to sell them. I recently researched the prices various websites are paying for empty inkjet and toner cartridges and found certain brokers online can be quite generous.
While cartridges for machines experiencing waning demand are not worth much, I was surprised to see just how much online brokers are willing to pay for the more popular cartridges. You can get $4 or more for certain virgin Hewlett-Packard inkjet cores, and it is not uncommon to see sites offering $3 or more for other popular inkjet empties. Cores for popular laser cartridges fetch an even prettier penny. When I wrote the article, I found some broker sites are paying nearly $20 for certain empty toner cartridges (like the HP CC364X). Many empty toner cartridges from hardware vendors such as Brother, Canon, Lexmark and others are worth between $5 and $10 online.
Remanufacturers always did a better job collecting empty toner cartridges than they did getting consumers to return empty inkjet cartridges. In the early days, most small remanufacturers put ad-hoc collection programs in place with their business clients. Often these programs would be some sort of informal arrangement where empties would be collected when new cartridges were dropped off. But remans lacked similar one-on-one relationships with consumers, so collecting spent inkjet cartridges was not as straightforward as retrieving toner cores. And it was easier to simply toss a small, empty inkjet cartridge in the garbage at home than it was to try and stuff a large toner cartridge into an office trash can.
Remanufacturers began pursuing empty inkjet cartridges in the late 1990s, but there wasn’t a lot to incent consumers to return empties. Collection bins were deployed at certain office superstores with ARS mailers addressed to exotic places like Chatsworth, Calif., or Franklin, Tenn. OEMs frequently included a similar mailer with their replacement cartridges. Trying to get empties back using these mail-in campaigns was not too effective. Soon, larger companies like HP and Staples established online properties to support their collection efforts. Over time, the number of empties-collection sites online grew as more remanufacturers launched their own Web-based reverse logistic programs. Today, there are dozens of sites collecting empties in the United States alone.
Regardless of whether they were online or a brick-and-mortar establishment, companies collecting empties quickly learned they needed to do more than simply offer a mail-in program if they wanted to ensure they would get the cores returned. Office superstores, websites and other organizations all began to offer cash or some other sort of incentive to get end users to return valuable cores. Brokers soon learned how to tap into a variety of sources ranging from end users to recycling companies to retailers, dealers and other companies in the channels. They also invested in education, teaching how to properly store spent cartridges and do things like prevent nozzles from clogging by keeping cartridges wrapped in moist paper towels.
Some brokers achieved success by teaching consumers the value of collecting empties for fundraisers, and various sites sprang up that support empty collection efforts by non-profit organizations. Brokers reached out to charitable organizations and educated them about the value of empties. Soon, schools, houses of worship and other nonprofit organizations began collecting empties and redeeming them for cash or computers, educational tools, office equipment and other valuable prizes. Various sites including FundingFactory.com and Recycle4Charity.com sprung up online to support charitable campaigns. Today, fundraising activities are an important vehicle for collecting spent cartridges.
Individuals and organizations are currently getting big bucks for spent cartridges if they sell the right empty to the right website. As of this writing, some of the highest buy-back prices for inkjet cores were going for HP integrated cartridges released in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2008, including the HP 60 series and the HP 901 series. A tidy sum was being offered for certain Canon and Lexmark SKUs too. Brokers were also paying as much as $18 or more for HP monochrome toner empties including the C8543X, CE255X and CC364X and just under $10 for certain HP color cores and a couple of popular Brother SKUs.
My research found that Core Recovery Company (www.corerecovery.com), Clover Holdings’ ERS (www.ersusa.com) and MB Sales (www.mbsalesusa.com) were among the most generous in terms of what they were offering for empties. That said, there are many sites on the Internet currently buying back cartridges, and each is constantly changing its buy-back prices to meet the demand it is experiencing. If you are interested in selling empties to an online site, you would be well-advised to do your homework in order to ensure you are getting the best price.
Top-dollar inkjet SKUs
When I wrote this article, Core Recovery Company, ERS and MB Sales were all offering $4 or more for empty virgin HP 60 and 901 cartridges. Apparently, the installed base of machines that use these cartridges has now reached critical mass, and the population of machines that use HP 90 series cartridges is declining, at least in the U.S. ERS was paying $5 for the European equivalent of the tricolor HP 60XL, the color HP 300XL. ERS’ parent company, Clover, has operations in Europe, so the firm will be able to use the European SKUs.
Although HP empties command the highest buy-back prices, I found that other virgin inkjet cores are also valuable. Brokers are willing to shell out good money for select Canon integrated cartridges, especially SKUs like the PG-210 and CL-211. Presumably, like the HP machines, the installed base of Canon inkjet units released after 2008 that use the PG-210 or PG-210XL pigmented black ink cartridges and the CL-211 or CL-211XL tricolor cartridges with Chroma- Life100+ dye-based inks is now large enough to drive demand for these SKUs.
Offering $3.50, MB Sales was the high bidder for the Canon tricolor CL-211XL, while ERS and Core Recovery were paying $2.50. Core Recovery and ERS also offered $3 for the European high-yield equivalent, the Canon CL-513. For the standard-yield CL-211, MB Sales and ERS were paying $2, while Core Recovery would pay $1.50. For the European standard-yield CL-511, Core Recovery offered only $0.75, while ERS was paying $3. All three websites offered less for the companion black cartridges. Core Recovery and ERS were paying $0.50 for PG-210s, and MB Sales was paying $1. The offers for the high-capacity cartridges were more substantial; Core Recovery and MB Sales were each paying $1.50 and ERS $1.25.
Lexmark’s inkjet business has been in decline for years, but brokers continue to pay good money for certain Lexmark empties. In fact, the highest prices I found for virgin inkjet cores were being paid on the Lexmark 34 and 35. MB Sales offered $5.50 for the Lexmark 35 and $4.25 for the Lexmark 34. ERS was paying $5 and $3.50 for the Lexmark 35 and 34, respectively. Core Recovery offered $4.50 for the Lexmark 35 and $3.50 for the 34.
Although HP empties command the highest buy-back prices, other virgin
inkjet cores are also valuable.
More $$$ for toner
As one would suspect, online brokers are willing to pay more for virgin toner cores than they are for empty inkjet cartridges. While an assortment of empty toner cartridges is worth less than a dollar, most will earn a few bucks when returned. Many virgin monochrome cores are worth more than $10, and I found a few brokers willing to pay more than $15 for certain SKUs.
Several HP monochrome empties (including the C8543X, CE255X and CC364X) topped the list of SKUs commanding the highest buy-back prices. When I checked, Core Recovery was paying $18.50 for the C8543X and $18 for the CE255X and CC364X. ERS offered a little less: $17 for the C8543X, $16 for the CC364X and $15.50 for the CE255X. MB Sales offered $17 for the CC364X and $18 for the C8543X and CE255X. The CC364X also commanded the highest buy-back price for nonvirgin SKUs. Core Recovery offered $2 for a nonvirgin CC364X core, and ERS offered $1.
I was surprised to see that certain older SKUs continue to be in big demand. For example, the C3909A/X monochrome cartridge, which is employed in machines based on the WX engine like the aging LaserJet 5Si, continues to be in demand. Core Recovery would give $9 for a returned C3909 core, MB Sales offered $8.75, and ERS was willing to pay $8.50 for the aging SKU. I should point out that brokers were not as generous for empties used in other devices that are getting long in the tooth. For example, Core Recovery was paying only $1 for the 92298A cartridge used in the LaserJet 4.
Spent Brother drum units are also getting big bucks from online brokers. Virgin DR-360 cores receive some of the highest buy-back prices. Core Recovery was the highest bidder I found, offering $10 for the DR-360, while MB Sales paid $9.25, and ERS was paying $9. Core Recovery offered $10 for a spent Brother DR-620 unit, MB Sales offered $8.50, and ERS paid $7.50.
The price for empty CMYK cartridges used in Color LaserJets range from less than a dollar up to $9, which is what Core Recovery was paying for empties for the Color LaserJet CP4025 series. MB Sales paid $8.50 for these color cores, and ERS paid $7. Non-HP color laser cores are not as popular. The online brokers only offered a dollar or two for empty Brother color toner cartridges, and individual sites offered the same low prices for certain color cores for Samsung and Xerox units.
Virgin HP toner cores have value; some broker sites are paying nearly
$20 for empties such as the HP CC364X.
Many virgin non-HP monochrome cores are worth more than $10,
and a few brokers were offering more than $15 for certain SKUs.
The situation for ink and toner cores will only get worse. While this is an unfortunate reality for buyers, it will continue to drive the prices offered for empties online up if you are looking to sell. So any company with access to empties should consider selling their empties.
Today, brokers do not offer much for empty inkjet tanks from firms like Brother and Epson, but I expect that to change. Brother has been gaining market share, so demand for refilled Brother tanks should grow. Currently, most of these empties are worth less than a dollar, but I would not be surprised to see brokers paying a buck or more for empty Brother ink tanks in the not-too-distant future. The price of Epson empties should also go up but not as much. Epson is losing share to firms like Brother and Canon as well as its age-old nemesis, HP. In addition to losing share, the channels continue to shy away from third-party Epson supplies because of intellectual property issues. I only found a few sites buying back Epson tanks, and none were very generous. Look for this to change only if larger retailers begin to sell third-party Epson supplies.
On the toner side, empty HP SKUs will continue to command the highest prices. That’s obvious. In addition, I expect to see the price of Brother and Samsung empties climb, including the price of simple toner containers that work in concert with drum units. OEMs are paying more attention than ever to third-party toner supplies, and there have already been suits filed by Canon and Lexmark. I suspect that more cautious remanufacturers will look to refill spent toner containers and move away from marketing compatibles. I have heard that Samsung has sent cease and desist letters to some firms marketing compatibles in certain regions. If true, that will only drive the price of Samsung empties up. As far as Brother goes, I keep hearing the firm is about to take legal action. That has not happened yet, but just the threat makes me think the price of Brother empties will go up.
As I noted earlier, if you are interested in selling your empties, make sure to scour the Web for the best prices. The three sites I quoted were only for the sake of reference and are by no means the only brokers out there. Moreover, if empties offer you an incremental revenue stream, contact brokers directly. It is not unusual for brokers to sell cores with as much as a 200 percent markup. They may be willing to share more of that margin than what they advertise online. There is no harm in asking.
This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of Recharger.