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Printer Effects on the Environment

Just when you think your printer has made your work or academic pursuits more convenient, think again.

Originally invented to distribute graphical and text-based information en masse within a given time frame, printers have come a long way since then. 

The first printers were designed simply to get things done. They were necessary for newspaper, magazine, and book circulations. Over the years, print technology expanded to address personal, academic, and career printing needs. 

Now, everyone enjoys the benefits of photo printing, producing hard copies of a thesis paper, 3D printing, what have you. Today's printers are capable of just about anything—including functions that may not be important but have nevertheless made the use of printers more enjoyable (e.g. printer software with filters, WiFi connectivity). 

Print Technology and the Environment

Whether you're aware of this fact or not, using printers comes with a price. Humanity loves it when the load is taken off their shoulders, but they hardly look into the consequences of technological advancements.

This is not to discourage you from buying printers but more like a reminder that we should be responsible in our use of print technology. Irresponsible printer use has contributed to a number of environmental issues. And what's sadder than this fact is that most of us turn a blind eye.

Here is an overview of how printers have affected the environment:

  • In the last 30 years or so, people around the world have consumed three times more paper products.
  • Paper garbage has also increased in the last few decades.
  • 350 million ink cartridges are disposed each year.
  • 2012 data revealed approximately 1.8 billion ink cartridges and 500 million toner cartridges were thrown in landfills.
  • Most cartridge containers have a lifespan of 1000 years.
  • Cartridges turn into solid wastes if not recycled.

What You Can Do

So what role do we humans play in this narrative? Since we invented the printers and we're essentially the ones using them, it is our job to adopt responsible practices and buy eco-friendly printers.

More specifically:

1. Do your research.

Don't just buy a printer right off the bat. A popular and aesthetic looking printer isn't always the most environment-friendly printer out there.

Consider printers with these qualities:

  • Ink or toner is free from harmful elements especially carbon (e.g. soy-based or vegetable oil-based ink or toner).
  • Manufacturer has a working cartridge recycling program that users can take part in.
  • Can accommodate ink refills or be successfully fitted with compatible ink or toner cartridges.

2. Avoid wasteful print habits.

The main reason why there's so much waste on earth? We buy or do unnecessary things (those that we don't seriously consider keeping or doing for a long time). And it's no different when it comes to printing.

Avoid wasteful behaviour by:

  • Printing only what you need (e.g. travel documents, school requirements, government-required documents)
  • Engaging paperless transactions
  • Providing soft copies
  • Setting your printer to economy/fast printing mode
  • Adjusting margins
  • Printing on both sides of the paper and not just one
  • Maintaining your printer (to avoid paper jams)
  • Opting for soy-based refills or compatible ink cartridges
  • Joining your manufacturer's cartridge recycling program

The choice is yours.

True, the concept of environmental protection may sound too highfalutin or idealistic. However, this does not change the fact that one way or another, we have contributed to the problem by using our printer without thinking of the consequences.

They say rather than contribute to the problem, be part of the solution instead. But while the set of solutions presented above appears simple, not everyone is motivated enough to be part of it.

Ultimately, the choice is yours. As a printer user or owner, the environment is your responsibility. This is not just for your sake but also for the sake of future generations. Through responsible usage, you prevent them from bearing the brunt of your actions.

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