Tech transfer: Anew Green Inc.
Printer toner wasted no moreBy Eric Peterson
COMPANY: Anew Green Inc., www.anewgreen.com, Longmont, CO
INITIAL LIGHT BULB: After years with IBM's high-end printing division (now Ricoh Infoprint Solutions), Dennis Estabrooks and Eric Jepsen hung their own shingle on a consulting shop, epHub, in 2002.
Consulting for the same market – high-end, high-speed laser printers used primarily by insurance companies and banks to print anything with private information – “We discovered a huge amount of waste being tossed in landfills,” Jepsen says. “These printers are fundamentally inefficient. You may put in 100 pounds of toner in a machine and only 80 pounds gets printed.”
Sensing a market opportunity, Jepsen and Estabrooks developed a recycling process for the staggering amount of wasted toner and launched Anew Green in 2006. Now 10 employees strong, the company's sales have nearly doubled every year since its launch.
IN A NUTSHELL: Anew Green's patented process cleans foreign particles from dry toner so it can be reused. “It's mixed with paper dust and chads – a bunch of junk,” says Jepsen, who serves as the company's president. (Estabrooks is CEO.) “But over 90 percent of it is usable toner.”
The company arranges delivery of full pallets of toner from print shops around the U.S. and Canada to their Longmont facility, where a “trade secret” process is employed to filter out the unwanted debris. Afterward, Anew Green is able to use the exact same packaging to ship clean toner to customers.
“There are a lot of benefits,” Jepsen says. “If you recycle one pound of toner, that's one pound of toner you didn't have to create from raw materials. Recycled toner has as much brand equity as recycled paper.”
The long-term plan is to move into recycling ink and toner from mid-range printers as well as other office waste such as shredded paper. “The mid-range market is larger but more labor-intensive,” Jepsen says. “We'll eventually get down there, but for now we're focused on the high end.”
Before signing on with Anew Green, “We had been throwing waste bottles of toner away,” says Karen Winter, quality assurance manager at Sandy Springs, Ga.-based First Data Corp. The payment-processing company served as a beta site for Anew Green, sending the company waste toner and buying back recycled toner. Beyond “quite a bit” of money saved, First Data recycled more than 200,000 pounds of toner and 50,000 pounds of plastic, ultimately avoiding more 1 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Savings aside, Winter says, “It was the right thing to do.”
THE MARKET:“To say this market is monopolistic is a complete understatement,” Jepsen says, noting that Ricoh and Germany's Oce Printing Systems are the only manufacturers of the specialized room-sized printers. “We've been growing, but it's been a battle.”
Citing a worldwide annual market of about $20 billion – half of which is domestic – Jepsen says the two companies encourage customers to throw waste toner away. “It's incredible. It's also why we receive so much pushback from these manufacturers. We're like the little tick that won't go away to these big companies.”
FINANCING: Estabrooks and Jepsen initially staked the startup, but it has been self-sustaining and profitable since its launch.
QUOTE OF NOTE: “They (Ricoh and Oce) have no incentive to recycle toner. They say if you use our toner, it's going to blow up their machines and cause earthquakes and all this stuff. At the end of the day, they think they're going to make more money that way. We look at it just the opposite.” – Anew Green President Eric Jepsen
About Eric Peterson
Denver-based writer Eric Peterson is the author of Frommer's Colorado, Frommer's Montana & Wyoming, Frommer's Yellowstone & Grand Teton National Parks and the Ramble series of guidebooks, featuring first-person travelogues covering everything from atomic landmarks in New Mexico to celebrity gone wrong in Hollywood. Peterson has also recently written about backpacking in Yosemite, cross-country skiing in Yellowstone and downhill skiing in Colorado for such publications as Denver's Westword and The New York Daily News.