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Green printing: How does your printer stack up?

Considering the extensive range of consumables, from paper to cartridges, it's no surprise that printers are one of the big areas where environmental concerns take centre stage. So what can you do to lessen the impact that your printing has on the environment?

(Credit: HP)

Considering the extensive range of consumables, from paper to cartridges, it's no surprise that printers are one of the big areas where environmental concerns take centre stage.

So what can you do to lessen the impact that your printing has on the environment? Whether you have a laser or an inkjet printer, the principles are the same. Here's a couple of tips.

Everyday printing

Step 1: most of the major manufacturers suggest one option, which is the simplest and perhaps most obvious — print less. Sometimes, this isn't a particularly viable option for yourself or your business, so keep reading for some more pointers.

Step 2: look for software that manages your printer's output. Check the software that came with your printer for a tool that helps monitor what you're printing. Lexmark, for example, has software that allows you to crop and reduce the printout from a web page to get as much on the page as possible without wasting space.

Have a fiddle around in your printer preferences for draft mode, or econo-mode, to save on ink. (Credit: CBSi)

Step 3: for non-critical documents, use draft or econo-mode to save on toner or ink. Accessing this will vary with your printer, but generally you can select this option by entering into your printer preferences panel just before you print a document and choose the relevant option.

Step 4: save a tree or three by printing on both sides of the page — even if your printer doesn't have an automatic duplexer, you can easily do it yourself manually. Again, check with your printer software to see if there is a tool that will guide you through the process.

Step 5: paper choice is also an important consideration. You can choose fully recycled or partially recycled stock, or paper made from material other than good old tree. Cotton, hemp and even bamboo paper might be a little more difficult to find, but they can be used to print just about anything apart from printing cats, like for photographs. Definitely check compatibility with your printer before you use them.

Step 6: when it comes time to replace your cartridges, look for high yield replacements — though they cost a little more than standard ones, they typically last twice as long.

Cartridge recycling

No you're not hallucinating, this box really does have eyes. (Credit: Planet Ark)

No longer the domain of the environmentalist, cartridge recycling is gaining a lot of momentum. Many of the larger printer manufacturers have policies in place to take care of cartridge waste after you have exhausted the ink.

Most offer what has now become a fairly industry-standard recycling program through Cartridges for Planet Ark, which involves taking used cartridges to designated drop-off points in retail stores or Australia Post outlets.

Lexmark, Canon, HP, Epson, Brother and Konica Minolta are all involved in this project and promote it accordingly on their websites and/or packaging.

Lexmark, in particular, is quite proactive in this respect, packaging prepaid post bags addressed back to Planet Ark for recycling alongside some cartridges being sold. Lexmark also has a range of reply paid labels available from the company's website.

Further to this, Canon sends cartridges to a dedicated factory in Dalian, China, where each component part is dismantled and reused where appropriate, either in new products or recycled.


The next thing to think about is the stuff that's wrapped around your cartridges when you buy them. From the box to the internal packaging, disposing of these correctly makes a difference as well.

On the manufacturer side, all the companies listed previously (apart from Konica Minolta) have signed the National Packaging Covenant, which is a government and industry initiative. It's a voluntary program whose aim is to reduce packaging, covering off a gamut of environmental concerns from the impact of used packaging through to designing better and more efficient ways to pack goods.

Re-manufactured cartridges

In this context, the term "re-manufactured" refers to non-brand specific (or generic) toner and ink that can be bought for a range of printers.

While not supported by printer makers, there are a number of services available that refill ink cartridges for you. Though this option usually works out cheaper than buying fresh ink cartridges every time, make sure to check that you don't void any warranty or guarantee before you delve into the inky waters.

Ever wondered what was inside your toner and where each bit goes? (Credit: Canon)

A study by InfoTrends, commissioned by HP, found that in the US and Europe, 80 per cent of re-manufactured toner cartridges are thrown away rather than being recycled by the manufacturer. However, this doesn't stop you as a consumer from making a conscious effort to recycle these cartridges in the same manner as brand-specific ones.

Recycling your printer

While you may be tempted to perform an Office Space style farewell to your old printer once it packs it in, there are a number of more viable (and less violent) options. Byteback (currently only available in Victoria) will take up to 10 items to be broken up into component parts for appropriate recycling. Note that this service is only available for the actual printer unit itself and the program will conclude mid-2009.

Another is Close The Loop (co-creators of Cartridges for Planet Ark). Canon sends products it does not send to its overseas recycling facility to Close The Loop.

Most local councils have services available to take printers off your hands — for a full list, check Recycling Near You.

You too can look this happy using a pen with ink that has come from recycled cartridges. (Credit: Planet Ark)

Post-consumer waste

The next big question is of course: what happens to these products after recycling?

Some companies produce additional products from recycled end-of-life printers and copiers. Canon claims that one of its copiers can produce up to 4.7kg of recycled plastic, which goes back into making smaller products, such as the top and bottom casings of several of its calculators. According to the company, 80 per cent of its LS-63TG calculator is made from recycled material.

Cartridges and toner recycled through the Planet Ark initiative often end up as elements of other plastic items such as rulers, stationery items and even park benches.