Printing can be hazardous to the environment. From the energy your printer uses to the paper and ink your message is printed on, the printing choices you make can have a strong effect on the world around you. Luckily, printing green isn’t difficult or expensive. Here are a few ways you can make sure you make environmentally friendly choices when printing—without breaking the bank.
Use recycled paper. The papermaking industry uses a lot of resources—including trees, water, and energy. It’s estimated that it takes approximately three tons of wood, over 2,000 pounds of solid waste, and almost 20,000 gallons of water to make a single ton of paper. In addition, the bleaching process used to get paper white can release damaging chemicals into waterways and the atmosphere. Any way you look at it, the more paper you use the worse it will be for the environment.
But you can make a difference by using recycled paper. It typically doesn’t cost significantly more than virgin paper, and it both reduces the demand for and uses less resources than production of new paper.
Print less. This is probably the easiest and most obvious way to go green—and the best for your budget. Avoid printing as much as possible. Keep your documents backed up on USB drives and discs instead of printing out paper copies. Send emails instead of mailing letters. When you do print, make sure you print on both sides of a sheet of paper so you can reduce the amount of paper you use overall.
Look into soy-based inks. Paper in landfills may not be ideal, but at least it’s biodegradable, right? It might be—but the ink printed on it isn’t. Most regular printer inks are petroleum-based. Petroleum-based inks release VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) into the air—not just in landfills, but in your home. These contribute to both global warming and indoor air pollution. In addition, some colours—often reds and metallics—contain heavy metals such as zinc, copper, and barium. In landfills, these pollutants leach into the environment and cause damage.
Soy-based inks use natural pigments and mediums, and are generally much less harmful to the environment. Not all of them are completely free from pollutants, however; look for inks that contain less than 2% petroleum.
Investigate the company’s energy use and green policies. Whenever possible, investigate the green policies of companies you buy printers and ink from. Do they take steps to reduce their carbon footprint? Do they have a recycling plan? Do they commit to using energy-efficient machinery and production methods? Many companies do lip service to the environmental movement, but don’t follow through on larger commitments. Most big printer manufacturers have a cartridge recycling program, for example—but some simply ship their used cartridges to third-world contractors who dispose of them in landfills.
Recycle. Don’t throw any of your electronics, ink and toner cartridges, or paper into the garbage. Recycle them instead. It’s relatively easy to recycle paper—most municipal recycling programs can take it—but it’s more difficult to recycle cartridges. Your best bet is often to use a nonprofit program that specializes in handling ink and toner cartridges. Some charge, but many don’t—and some will even arrange to pick up or pay for postage on your cartridges. In addition, some third-party cartridge companies sell remanufactured cartridges—and will pay you for your used ink and toner cartridges.
Use a green printer. If you use a printing company for high-volume work, be warned: printing companies can be highly toxic to the environment. Printers use solvents, drying agents, shellacs, and other chemical solutions to create film and printing plates as well as to clean printing presses. These get released into the air and into waterways, and many have toxic effects on people who are exposed to them. Look for a printer committed to green operations—one that avoids the use of packaging and foils that can make paper products impossible to recycle; relies on soy-based organic inks; and follows green energy use and printing practices.
Buy recycled cartridges. Third party cartridge resellers recycle old original ink and toner cartridges and fill them with their own ink. Buy from them instead of buying new cartridges from your manufacturer, and you could save significant amounts on cartridge costs—as well as reducing demand for new cartridges and keeping old ones out of landfills.
Green printing is good for the environment, as well as your budget. Commit to recycling, look for energy-efficient printers, and use recycled materials whenever possible. Buy recycled paper and cartridges, and support green printers and manufacturing companies—and you’ll be doing your part to make a difference.