Regulation Is Coming to the EU Printer Supplies Market

How will it change the industry?



Peter Mayhew


For the longest time, there’s been a difficult relationship between OEMs and the aftermarket surrounding ink and toner supplies. Initiatives, innovations, dialogs, and legal conflicts have come and gone.


Entering the discussion is an authoritative body with the power to change the European landscape in ways it considers are in the best interests of the environment and consumers. The European Commission (EC) has taken a view of the printer supplies market in Europe. By a thorough process, they have concluded that the industry needs to redouble its efforts to provide more energy efficient and sustainable hardware and supplies solutions.



The opportunity to agree on a new industry voluntary agreement, which could have reshaped the industry, has been lost. We may never really know the reasons why, but phrases like “would not achieve the objectives considered in the Circular Economy Action Plan (CEAP)” and “cannot be considered compliant with the guidelines on self-regulatory instruments, in particular, regarding the possible re-use of consumables” serve as good indicators.


After considering the industry’s proposals, the European Commission concluded that “the Commission will launch the preparation of regulatory measures for this product group.”


Friend or Foe?

Maybe all is not lost. Regulation could take many forms and there will be many opportunities to reshape the industry through dialog and negotiation. One point recognized by the EC is that markets change. The criteria against which the EC measures our industry’s energy saving and sustainability performance contains numerous checks, balances, and opportunities for consensus.


There are many examples of regulated markets that have (and are) changing at a much faster rate than ours. Whether you look at automotive, dishwashers, washing machines, or other equipment, many of these markets are a long way ahead of the imaging products sector in terms of implementing energy saving measures and eco-design proposals industry-wide.


Market Changes and New Opportunities

At the heart of potential regulation is not a concern of whether one side of the industry wins or loses market share. Fair competition is a pre-requisite of the European Commission; the driver is the expeditious use of resources for the benefit of the environment and consumer. That means energy efficiency through design with the environment in mind, including repairability and reuse opportunities before recycling. That’s an opportunity for innovation, local employment, value-add, and (consequently) business remodeling within the industry.


Printers, MFPs, and their supplies have opportunities for the best technology changes currently available. Replenishing the marking material (whether toner or ink) is one example. Print hardware through design could have a much longer working life. The complexity of the way we deliver marking materials to the page could be simplified and energy efficiency consequently improved.


Behavioral changes for users, in terms of how and whether they can get ink or toner in bulk, will also be required. Marking supplies can now be purchased locally and in simplified packaging, like we buy and consume other liquid or granular supplies in our daily lives. It could become the norm, even if its delivery is just-in-time, predicted, and subscribed. Proofs of concept exist and some are currently in the market, but their market share is low and lagging. This could be due to the old “razors and blades” business model and its influence over the supplies used in printers or MFPs.


Stay or Go?

From a manufacturer’s perspective, decisions will have to be made: stay in the industry or leave and refocus on new market opportunities. Some have already made that strategic decision. Simply look at the industry’s rush to embrace IT services and acquire market share in new and adjacent markets.


For the aftermarket, change is also inevitable. If the cartridge goes “end-of-life” what will there be left to remanufacture if the profile of the machines-in-field no longer needs cartridges? Remanufactured hardware is a growth market opportunity. Local repair and reuse focused on hardware refurbishment and spare parts must be better for the environment. That is a big change conversation.


Then there is the manufacturer of the new-built compatible. Will they still be here in 3, 5, 10, or 20 years? Making something compatible with something, probably yes…but the question becomes “compatible with what?”


Keypoint Intelligence Opinion

The future of work itself will play a major role in shaping what and where we need to print which, in turn, will impact on the design of the hardware and how we provide and consume supplies. That assumes the printed page continues to make a valuable contribution to home and work life.


Our view is that some vertical markets will not be disrupted. They will remain defendable domains for the printed page, but others require much closer investigation and are unlikely to survive as new generations adopt new ways of working.


The need for all stakeholders to now come together and build on the achievements of the rejected voluntary agreement will be critical. Much of the energy efficiency work is almost completed and agreed. What remains are the difficult conversations about the profit centric, supplies part of the industry’s business model. It could mean the end of print as a service, subscriptions, and managed print services in the interest of the planet.


We need a public dialog about the industry going forward. Common ground, disruptive and ambitious changes, and new business models need to be found. Industry stakeholders need to get ahead as the future of work clock is eroding page volume and time is not on the industry’s side.


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