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Last modified: March 22, 2019

Lexmark’s Killer Chip Kills Reuse

Lexmark is attempting to use the Digital Millennium Copyright Act to restrict remanufacturing of their cartridges. A cartridge placed in a Lexmark printer must undergo “a secret handshake” before the printer will recognize the cartridge as an “authorized Lexmark cartridge.” If this secret handshake is not completed, then the cartridge will not be allowed to print. Static Control, according to Lexmark, has developed a ‘killer chip’ that engages in this secret handshake. Static Control does so in order that used Lexmark cartridges may be remanufactured and reused in a Lexmark printer. Lexmark seeks to prohibit unauthorized remanufacturing.

Lexmark’s killer chip is in direct opposition to common public policies aimed at reducing and eliminating waste. Far from designing out waste, Lexmark’s intentionally designs its products to become waste. This is definitely not in the public interest. GRRN awarded Lexmark our first WasteMaker Award in 1998 for Lexmark’s Prebate program (still operating), which uses a price discount to get customers to agree not to refill their cartridges. Prebate, like killer chips, has the effect of thwarting printer cartridge reuse.

GRRN promotes eliminating pollution and waste through extended producer responsibility (EPR) and product redesign. GRRN believes that the single greatest barrier to achieving zero waste in the United States is the absence of EPR, the principle that brand owners must take responsibility for the life cycle impacts of their products, from product design to end-of-life management. Assignment of full product responsibility, which is increasingly common in Europe and other OECD countries, provides a strong incentive for manufacturers like Lexmark to design products for reuse and recycling.

GRRN endorses the goals set forth in the recent WEEE directive from the European Union. The European Union requires producers to take responsibility for their own waste and ensure that their products are collected and properly recycled or remanufactured at end-of-life. We support such initiatives. Lexmark’s Prebate and killer chip programs do not constitute taking responsibility for their waste. The WEEE directive also provides in pertinent part that strategies such as that used by Lexmark are outlawed (see Article 4).

Reuse through remanufacturing is in the public interest because it saves energy and materials needed to make new products. Remanufacturers take used toner cartridges, replace worn out components, and add new toner, allowing the cartridge to be reused. Through remanufacturing, a cartridge can be used time and again in its original form.

Remanufacturing is more environmentally friendly than recycling. A remanufacturer takes the cartridge in its existing form, and reuses most of the components as they were originally constructed. Relatively little additional energy is needed to prepare a cartridge for additional use. Recycling, by contrast often results in the components of a cartridge being melted down into its constituent plastics and metals and then reused. Far more energy and resources are used in recycling a toner cartridge then in remanufacturing it. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recognized this distinction, and the superiority of remanufacturing in its publication WasteWise Update from May of 1997.

While we support Lexmark’s attempts to ‘recycle’ cartridges returned to them, we note that many cartridges currently end up in Eastern Asia where primitive methods of extracting materials of value create appalling impacts on human health and local environments. Lexmark has stated in court that perhaps only 10 percent (or less) of cartridges it produces under the Prebate marketing program are of the type that can be readily remanufactured. We are equally dismayed that Lexmark actively discourages remanufacturing of the cartridges that are otherwise destined for the landfills.

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