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When consumer behavior dictates life cycle performance beyond the use phase: case study of inkjet cartridge end-of-life management

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Conventional wisdom suggests that product reuse can provide environmental savings. The purpose of this study is to first compare the environmental impacts of retail refilling and remanufactured inkjet cartridge alternatives to production of new inkjet cartridges, and then determine the extent to which consumer behavior can influence life cycle outcomes.


A life cycle inventory was developed for an inkjet cartridge with an integral print head using material composition data collected from cartridge disassembly and material processing, product manufacturing, and transportation inputs estimated from market data and the ecoinvent database in SimaPro 7.3. Although previous comparative life cycle assessment (LCA) studies for printer cartridges typically use “pages printed” or a variation thereof for the functional unit, “cartridge use cycles” is more suitable for examining reused inkjet cartridge alternatives that depend on the inkjet cartridge end-of-life (EOL) route chosen by the consumer. Since multiple reuse cycles achieved from refilling by a retailer was of specific interest, a functional unit defined in the form of “five use cycles” included the mode and manner in which consumers purchased inkjet cartridge use cycles.

Results and discussion

Cartridge refills present the lowest environmental impact, offering a 76 % savings in global warming potential (GWP) impact compared to production and purchase of a new inkjet cartridge alternative, followed by the remanufacturing case, which provided a 36 % savings in GWP impact compared to the new inkjet cartridge. However, results varied widely, even switching to favor new cartridge purchase, depending on how consumer transport was modeled, specifically the mode of travel, travel patterns (number of trips), and method of allocating impact to each trip.


Refilling an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) cartridge four consecutive times provides the best alternative for reducing environmental impact for those consumers that purchase inkjet cartridges one at a time. On the other hand, consumers that purchase multiple cartridges in a single trip to a retailer reduce environmental impact more by transport minimization than by refilling. Results reinforce the need for more comprehensive inclusion of consumer behavior when modeling life cycle environmental impact of product alternatives.

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This research was financially supported by the Golisano Institute for Sustainability.

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Correspondence to Gabrielle Gaustad.

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Responsible editor: Guido W. Sonnemann

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Krystofik, M., Babbitt, C.W. & Gaustad, G. When consumer behavior dictates life cycle performance beyond the use phase: case study of inkjet cartridge end-of-life management. Int J Life Cycle Assess 19, 1129–1145 (2014).

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