A toner cartridge, also called laser toner, is the consumable component of a laser printer. Toner cartridges contain toner powder, a fine, dry mixture of plastic particles, carbon, and black or other coloring agents that make the actual image on the paper. The toner is transferred to paper via an electrostatically charged drum unit, and fused onto the paper by heated rollers during the printing process.
Low-end to mid-range laser printers typically contain two consumable parts: the toner cartridge itself (which has a typical life of 2,000 pages) and the drum unit (a typical life of 40,000 pages). Some toner cartridges incorporate the drum unit in the design and therefore replacing the toner means replacing the drum unit every single time, although some consider this type unessential and therefore not cost-effective. Toner Cartridges are similar to ink cartridges, which are used in Inkjet printing.
Toner cartridges can be expensive, sometimes exceeding the cost of cheaper laser printers. As a result, some people dispose of the printer when it is out of toner (thereby negating any "green" or "eco friendly" claims made by the manufacturers) and replace the entire machine. Ironically, new machines generally come with toners that are only ⅓ full. Consumers also can opt to buy generic brand laser toners, manufactured by companies other than the printer manufacturer. These toners are widely available at a fraction of the price of the genuine brand replacement. Toner refill kits are also an option, allowing the consumer to simply refill an empty cartridge.
Genuine or OEM
Genuine — also known as "original equipment manufacturer" (OEM) are cartridges sold by the printer manufacturers. Manufacturers offer certain guarantees when you use genuine brand toner in your printer and makes certain threats if you don't. Voiding the equipment warranty is often threatened. This is not illegal, as some suggest, although it would have to be proven that any damage to the equipment was actually caused by the use of poor quality replacements.
Genuine cartridges are generally more expensive than refills, compatibles or re-manufactured toner cartridges.
"Compatible", "generic", or "alternative brand" are cartridges manufactured by third party companies and sold under different brand names. Compatible cartridges may vary slightly in look, design and page yield to their OEM counterparts, sometimes due to patents or design copyrights. Generic cartridges are cheaper, often significantly so, than original manufacturer cartridges. They may be less reliable, depending upon the manufacturer. Some contain more toner than OEM cartridges, printing more pages. Some compatible toner cartridges may be of similar quality to their OEM competitors, but many are not.
Problems with compatible toners may be caused by various factors including different melting points, different electrostatic qualities, different pigments and different particle sizes, any of which can lead to poor print quality, dirty background or in extreme cases, damage to equipment.
Remanufacturing is, at least, refilling a cartridge with toner. The term implies that the cartridge is also refurbished, with worn or damaged parts replaced. The remanufacturing process, and the quality of the toner, differs between remanufacturers. A poorly remanufactured (or newly manufactured) cartridge may leak, malfunction, or damage the printer. Printer manufacturers use a toner designed to be suitable for their printers; remanufactured and third-party cartridges may use a generic toner which is less well matched.
While toner cartridges are commonly refilled with results reported to be good, in at least some cases this may leave waste toner from each print and paper debris in the cartridge, potentially causing backgrounding problems and producing contamination in the refilled cartridge.
On March 28, 1989, Fred Keen was granted a United States Patent for the "Refillable Toner Cartridge." 
Remanufactured, compatible, OEM and refilled toner cartridges are available from a variety of sources across the world. While compatible and OEM cartridges can be purchased off-the-shelf, smaller remanufacturers may refill an empty cartridge supplied by a customer. Larger remanufacturers obtain and remanufacture empty cartridges in bulk, and sell to the retail market them without delay.
Each brand new toner cartridge requires the burning of over 2 quarts of petroleum in the manufacturing process. In North America alone, more than 200 million litres of petroleum are used to sustain the production of new toner cartridges with the majority of these cartridges ending up in the worlds landfills once empty. Manufactures have responded by developing recycling programs for their used cartridges. On August 1, 2011 Hewlett Packard issued a press release showing their recycling process involves a partnership with an Asian firm that reuses plastic collected from the empty cartridges.
Advocates of more environmentally friendly processes claim that using refilled and remanufactured toner cartridges are much more environmentally friendly than using brand name new cartridges. Refilled and remanufactured cartridges reduce the dependency on petroleum that otherwise would have been used in the manufacture process of the new cartridge. Advocates[who?] also claim that the recycling programs devised by manufacturers are not always as environmentally friendly as consumers might think or in comparison to other options that may be available.
HP's recycling program involves the recycling of cartridges in partnership with a company in Asia. The process uses significant amounts of petroleum in the collection of empty cartridges on one continent and in transporting them half way around the world to be recycled.
Lexmark also has a similar program which they claim is in place to assure that as many empties as possible are collected and reused. This is known as Lexmark's return program, formerly the Prebate return program. In this model the toner cartridges, so-called prebate cartridges, are always owned by Lexmark and consumers purchase the right to use the cartridge until empty. Once empty, Lexmark requires that the cartridges are returned to Lexmark. The consumer pays a lower price if they agree to return the cartridge.
Opponents[who?] claim that since empty prebate cartridges are "owned" by Lexmark; and since Lexmark expressly forbids the remanufacturing or recycling of the cartridge by anyone other than themselves; and since third party remanufacturers cannot therefore remanufacture the empty cartridges; and since the majority of cartridges are never returned to Lexmark, the result is that the prebate program actually ensures fewer cartridges are recycled and customers are more often required to purchase brand name OEM cartridges.
- Uninet: Remanufacturing the Brother HL23xx cartridge
- U.S. Patent Office: Refillable toner cartridge and method of manufacture thereof
- Lexmark Suffers a Couple of Legal Defeats, but Wins a Biggie, ENX Magazine, Mary 2014, retrieved 1 July 2014