Nov. 16, 2005 - Last year, Tucson residents Chuck and Kathy Sawyer went to a store to buy two printer ink cartridges and emerged with $75 less in their pockets. Their sentiment was mutual: Printer ink shouldn't cost so much.
This year, the couple opened two stores that allow people to recycle their home printer cartridges and buy refilled cartridges at savings of 50 to 70 percent.
The newest store, at 7292 N. Oracle Road, celebrated its grand opening Nov. 10.
"The basic premise is that no one should have to pay as much for ink and toner as they do and we're here to help that and do that in an environmentally friendly way," Chuck Sawyer said.
For years, businesses have had the opportunity to buy remanufactured cartridges at discounts, but many people with home printers have been limited to buying new.
"This gives them a chance to save, too," he said.
The Sawyers had been looking for a new business venture when they found themselves paying more than they wanted for ink cartridges last year. Their insight at a major retail store led to research about ways to provide less expensive ink.
That's how they discovered the Cartridge World franchise, which is based in Australia and began opening stores in the United States 18 months ago.
The franchise's principle is the same as for barbecue gas tanks, Chuck Sawyer said. The customer drops off an empty cartridge and receives one that is already filled. The empty one is later refilled and sold to another customer. Most cartridges are available, but if one is not, the store can refill the empty cartridge on the spot.
"It can be as fast as 'as you wait,' but typically you drop it off and come back after lunch or the next day," he said.
Store employees sonically clean the cartridges, replace some parts, and expect the cartridges to work like new.
"If there's any problem, we take care of it, no questions asked," Chuck Sawyer said.
When the Sawyers opened their first store, near the intersection of Broadway Boulevard and Swan Road, it was the 129th Cartridge World store to open in the United States. Eleven months later, their second store was the 391st to open.
"It's a fast-growing trend," Chuck Sawyer said.
And it can't catch on soon enough, he said. Worldwide, about 1 billion printer ink cartridges are sold in a year, and half of those are sold in the United States. Of that half, 80 percent go in landfills where they take anywhere from 300 to 1,000 years to decompose.
"I started to, as a citizen, be shocked at just this one item, which, to be honest, I have always just pitched mine in the trash," Kathy Sawyer said. "I had no idea it was something that could be recycled, and I had no idea you could reuse them successfully."
Kathy Sawyer is in charge of the part of the business that reaches into the community to collect empty cartridges that it can fill and use to stock its stores.
She offers schools, churches and organizations anywhere from one to three dollars a piece for reusable cartridges and a dime or quarter for a cartridge that is not reusable. More than 30 groups in Tucson are using the offer for fund raising.
"I've just really been surprised with how it's taken on a life of its own," Kathy Sawyer said. "Everybody uses cartridges, and it's kind of an easy thing to do with them."
Cartridge World's first partnership with a community group led recently to a new partnership in the Northwest.
In January, Kathy Sawyer suggested to her daughter's teacher at Whitmore Elementary School in Tucson that her third grade class initiate a schoolwide drive for recycled printer canisters.
She said she would go to the class and educate the students about recycling and then reward every canister offering.
"We said we'd pay something for every cartridge even if it had been run over by a truck," she said. "We will send those to some place that will grind them down and completely use them."
The teacher, Mary Roth, liked teaching about environmental issues and liked the idea. The third grade class got excited about recycling, and in four months the school earned $450 for new picnic tables.
Roth's son is a choir member at Canyon Del Oro High School, so Roth got a canister collection drive started there as a fund-raising project for the choir's booster club.
"It provides a tremendous service to the community, plus people can save money by buying recycled cartridges, plus, in this case, it raised money for my school last year," Roth said.
Meanwhile, the SaddleBrooke Rotary Club is collecting empty cartridges to raise money to buy phone cards for soldiers in Iraq.
Chuck Sawyer said he's pleased to be able to make money while working toward a solution for an environmental issue that is problematic right now.
"It basically would otherwise be people's garbage and it's able to be used," he said.