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Environmental impacts of printer supplies configuration

There is no doubt that in all walks of life, things have to change in terms the consumption of the earth's resources, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the recycling of electrical and electronic waste.

Estimates show that the amount of electronic, electrical and chemical waste produced in a lifetime per person in the western world is about 3.3 tonnes. In the UK alone, 1 million tonnes of electrical and electronic waste goes into landfill every year. Surely this will only increase as time goes on unless actions and attitudes change? Current trends are just not responsible or sustainable. An estimated 1 billion people live below the poverty line, 2 billion people lack safe water, 3.1 billion lack sanitation and millions of children live on rubbish dumps around the world.

And this when around 20% of the world's population is in the developed world and yet they are responsible for 80% of commercial energy use, 75% of timber consumption, 50% of fish and grain consumption and 40% fresh water consumption

Meanwhile, in 2005, the World Land Trust declared that almost 90% of all office printing and copier cartridges can be reused or recycled. We need to see this happen.

The statistics are scary, but certainly big strides are being made in legislation and environmental standards in the electronics industry. The WEEE directive in the UK and Germany "Blue Angel" scheme are two such initiatives. Sanctions against companies who ignore their responsibilities are severe.

However, on an individual basis when it comes to buying new equipment, everyone can do their bit by taking time to learn a little more about the environmental impact of certain types of equipment. For example, when it comes to office or home printers, we can recognise that longevity and durability is not restricted to the body of the printer only. Just as important are the moving parts and imaging elements of the printer.

Different manufacturers, and different machines across any individual manufacturers range, have configurations which increase user-convenience by integrating all the mission-critical elements into one disposal replacement kit. It is not hard to see that that the short-term cost saving [ which actually in some cases may not be so great] and convenience can have a high cost in terms of correct and managed disposal of the replacement parts.

Inkjet printers are largely configured either with an integrated ink tank/print head or with long-lasting print head with separate ink tank(s). Additionally there are variations on the long-lasting print head configuration. These can comprise those with replaceable heads OR those with permanent units that are factory fitted with no user-replaceable parts. Lexmark are exclusively in the first category, with integrated cartridges only, and Brother and Epson are exclusively in the final category with fixed, long-life print heads only. Canon and Hewlett-Packard are in both categories, with both configurations found in their product range, while Hewlett-Packard also has models based on both replaceable AND permanent long-life print head

Where Laser printers are concerned, the situation is very much the same. Some manufacturers use single-piece toner cartridges where the whole, business-end imaging system is contained within one unit, while others split the unit down into component parts.

These components in essence, comprise the toner cassette, the developing roller and the OPC (imaging) drum. There are configurations that either split all three elements apart or simply split off the toner cassette from the mechanical elements (developer roller and OPC drum) that are contained in an imaging unit. In some instances (more typical of colour laser printers) the developer roller and the toner are combined with a separate OPC drum.

Print engine manufacturers typically employing the single-piece design include (for mono laser printers) Canon; Lexmark; Ricoh; and Fuji Xerox. Those typically employing a two- or three-piece configuration, but also some single-piece units include: Brother; Konica Minolta; Oki; and Sharp.

Lexmark is in the position of being a majority single-piece manufacturer with some printers that have a multi-part build. Kyocera is in a category of its own with an ultra long-life OPC drum configuration.

On the Total Cost of Printing agenda, printers with multipart configurations were once guaranteed to offer a lower Cost Per Page overall. But this is no longer the case because manufacturers have realised the power of marketing based on Cost Per Page and not on the cost of the consumable items with ink or toner.

Generally speaking, at the higher end of the market, mono laser printers use a single-piece toner cartridge with all the imaging elements contained within it. This is because the drum is worked hard and it would be very difficult to guarantee the drum life much beyond the life of the toner contained in the cartridge (particularly at 30,000 pages per cartridge).

However, even in these cases, there are significant environmental implications to following the long-life, multi-part, route ' for the printer user as well as for the manufacturer and the planet.


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