How to buy the greenest printer and make greener printing choices
If you’re greening your home or just trying to save money in your home office, changing your printing habits is one way to reduce your carbon footprint.
As you use less printer ink over time, you’ll have fewer cartridges to buy and ultimately throw away – benefiting both the planet and your waist pack. andyYou don’t necessarily have to buy a new printer, However, if you are thinking of upgrading or upgrading to a new printer, there are a few things to keep in mind.
WWe’ll show you how to buy a more sustainable printer when the time comes to replace your existing one, and explain how and why you should recycle printer cartridges, as well as some other steps you can take at home to make your printer more environmentally friendly.
Up to 97% of all printer cartridges are recyclable. Some parts can be used to craft new cartridges, while the rest can be converted into other items like soda cans, office supplies, and even roads.
This greatly reduces the need to dig up more resources, including non-renewable ones: cartridges are predominantly made of plastic, which requires oil, and electronic components and mechanisms use precious metals, which must be dug out of the ground and refined.
While almost all parts of a printer cartridge can be recycled, nearly 70% of used ink cartridges still end up in landfill each year
Unfortunately, while almost all parts of a printer cartridge can be recycled, many are not: almost 70% of used ink cartridges still end up in landfill each year. In Australia alone, we threw away almost 14 million printer cartridges in 2020.
In landfills, cartridges slowly degrade over 400 to 1000 years, during which time they fill limited landfill space while allowing harmful materials to leach into groundwater.
How to recycle printer cartridges
Fortunately, recycling a cartridge is fairly easy. Bullets 4 Planet Ark is the premier recycling program in Australia. To date, more than 56 million ink cartridges have been recycled in partnership with a number of major printer brands.
You’ve probably seen the lockers at post offices or at Officeworks and The Good Guys stores, but other retailers like Harvey Norman, JB Hi-Fi and small business partners also accept cartridges for recycling.
Go to recyclingnearyou.com.au/cartridges and enter your zip code to find the nearest drop-off point.
How to make your existing printer more environmentally friendly
If you already own a printer and it’s doing its job so well that you don’t want to replace it, there are a few simple steps you can take to make your existing printer more environmentally friendly.
Refill ink cartridges
Many generic cartridge models offer a refill kit, and this can be a lot more environmentally friendly than buying a new cartridge every time the old one runs out. Most can only be refilled a certain number of times and this will be noted in the specifications.
Remember that refilling at home can be fiddly, messy and time-consuming. Take your time and, using gloves and a syringe, inject the ink very slowly to reduce bubbling and spills.
Some manufacturers also sell original refillable cartridges that may be less of a hassle to use.
“Just keep in mind that some printer manufacturers and models block the installation of generic cartridges,” says the CHOICE printer expert Peter Saluzny.
“Always check before you buy as you may have to jump through many hurdles to get the printer working with a generic cartridge.”
WAHL tip: If you’re using ink like it’s going out of business, you might want to consider a continuous ink supply system (CISS). More information on these systems can be found below.
Turn on “Eco Mode”.
Most printers have an “Eco” or “Draft” mode that uses less ink. Although this means images and text can look faded, they should still be legible, and you can limit full-quality printing to important documents.
Print both sides of the sheet
This will significantly reduce your paper consumption. If you have a printer with automatic duplex printing, it will automatically rotate and refeed the paper. Otherwise you have to turn the pages manually.
Instead of just recycling single-sided paper, repurpose it as scrap paper—perfect for kids’ drawing and list making.
If you need to shred documents, you can use the shredded paper for your compost. Check out our shredder reviews to find the best.
Buy recycled paper
A handful of paper manufacturers sell printer paper made from 50% or 100% recycled materials. This might not look as good as “brand new” paper, but the difference is negligible unless you need a quality print.
Recycling doesn’t just stop at ink. You can also recycle your old printer for free through the National Television and Computer Recycling Scheme (NTCRS). You can find your nearest drop-off point by entering your zip code below www.recyclingnearyou.com.au/computers.
Officeworks is usually a convenient option, as any store will accept e-waste that falls under the NTCRS for free. However, smaller shops tend to have less storage space, so call ahead to make sure they can accept your electronics before heading down.
“It’s also worth looking into charities in your area,” says Peter. “Maybe they’ll take old printers that are in good working order, and others even have refurbishment programs where they fix old equipment for people in need. That could give your old model a second life.”
Recycle your printer in the mail
TechExpress is a low-cost e-waste collection service for people who don’t live near an NTCRS drop-off point. All you have to do is pack the goods, buy a shipping label online for $14.95, and then drop it off at a post office or PO box if it’s small enough.
You can read all about it below www.techcollect.com.au/techexpress.
When it comes time for a new printer, don’t just buy the first thing you see on sale. The cost of a printer is more than just the price: you also need to consider the annual cost of ink and toner, which in some cases can exceed the original purchase price.
Not only that, the more frequently you have to buy ink cartridges, the more waste there is from the packaging and the cartridges themselves. And even if you recycle every cartridge you use, you still need to consider the environmental impact of their manufacture, transportation and recycling.
“Have a serious thought about whether you even need a printer,” says Ben Bridges, printer tester expert at CHOICE.
“You can keep most things in paper form, and if you need to print, service centers like Officeworks are just as cheap and guarantee the same or better quality.
“If you need a printer, consider a mono printer. There are fewer cartridges to buy and less wastage.”
It’s best to research your next printer purchase carefully to make sure you’re buying a printer that doesn’t cost the earth – in both senses of the word.
Check out our test results
Our experts not only test a printer’s performance, but also its ongoing running costs so you can calculate exactly how much you’re going to spend.
We break down the running costs in detail, showing you how much each printer costs you in terms of toner per page (text, graphics and photo), the annual toner/ink cost, the total cost in the first year of ownership and the total cost over three years .
We also calculate how much ink each printer uses during cleaning cycles. A printer with a 400% Excessive Ink Usage score uses four times as much ink to clean as it does to print. This means you’ll have to replace the cartridge more often – which is bad for the planet and bad for your credit card.
The more efficient a printer is, the less it pollutes the environment
“Look for printers with low annual ink/toner costs that can print a significant number of pages of text or graphics as needed,” says Peter .
The more efficient a printer is, the less impact it has on the environment – so it makes sense to look at the numbers.
If you’re a regular printer and want to minimize your environmental impact, it’s worth investigating a so-called “Big Ink” system.
Rather than using small ink cartridges that need to be replaced frequently, a Continuous Ink Supply System (CISS) replaces the original ink cartridge with a modified cartridge that connects to larger ink tanks. When an ink tank is running low, you can refill it with a manufacturer’s ink bottle.
This means you don’t have to replace an entire cartridge just because one color has run out. You can simply order another bottle of the color you want.
Because the ink tanks are so much larger than a regular cartridge, they can deliver a lot more prints for a lot less money: the Epson EcoTank Photo ET-8500, for example, prints an estimated 6200 pages of text for around $0.004 per page.
Ink tank printers cost more to buy, but they’re a lot cheaper to run—and you won’t create more waste by buying that many cartridges
When CHOICE’s sister organization Consumer NZ tested ink tank printers, they found that they were around 16 times cheaper to print than a similar ink cartridge model. And to match the print capacity of an ink tank printer, you would need to buy around 13 high-capacity ink cartridges – resulting in many empty ink cartridges ending up in landfill!
Ink tank printers cost more to buy, but they’re a lot cheaper to run—and you won’t generate more waste by buying that many cartridges.
“While it’s possible to retrofit an existing printer with an external CISS unit, it’s difficult, fiddly and may not even work,” says Peter.
“You’re better off buying an existing CISS model if you’re looking for low-cost, high-volume prints. All of the models in our test have CISS installed from the factory.”