Print Error: How manufacturers design inkjet printers to waste ink

Sunday, August 25, 2013 by: Tara Green
Tags: ink jet printers, consumer waste, corporate profits

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(NaturalNews) Every time you print a page on your inkjet printer, the printer forces you to waste ink. The companies who sell printers and accompanying cartridges build this automatic waste feature into their printers for profit. By structuring their printers to demand rapid ink usage requiring more frequent cartridge purchases, they not only force unnecessary consumer expense, they also contribute to environmental waste.

Consumer Expense

There's an old saying used to advise people to develop diverse talents and income streams: "Always have more than one string to your fiddle." Apparently the makers of computer printers have taken that saying to heart. In addition to profits from sales of their printers, and accompanying sales of inkjet cartridges used at a normal rate, they have developed methods to make sure their customers go through ink more rapidly. More frequent inkjet cartridge purchases mean greater profits -- and as everyone knows, inkjet cartridges can carry hefty price tags. If calculated per ounce, inkjet ink costs more than vintage champagne. Although obviously you can't use champagne to print a color photo, the comparison gives a good idea of how much mark-up there is the ink.

Environmental Cost

Another famously pricey liquid commodity, one which poses serious environmental concerns, is used in the manufacture of inkjet cartridges. According to a report by Preton, a company which offers green printing software to reduce cartridge waste, "It takes a gallon of fossil oil to produce one laser cartridge, and 2-1/2 ounces of oil to manufacture each new inkjet cartridge. The energy used to manufacture 350 million cartridges [the number thrown out each year worldwide] is enough to make tens of thousands of SUVs."

Inkjet printer cartridges are the technology industry's equivalent of the styrofoam packaging fast food restaurants used in the past. A means of leaving a lasting legacy of trash. As the Preton report points out, each inkjet cartridge "becomes 3.5 pounds of solid waste sitting in a landfill and can take from 450 to 1,000 years to decompose, as it includes mixed resin, one of the most difficult plastics to recycle."

The chemicals in ink are toxic. Although the level of toxicity is low enough that there is little harm in handling them except in case of accidental ingestion, if cartridges are not disposed of properly, they can contribute pollution. If an inkjet cartridge thrown in the trash is punctured or burned, the cartridge can explode releasing toxic fumes either into the soil, groundwater or air. Printer ink residue contains Volatile Organic Chemicals (VCOs) which can cause birth defects and serious health problems, even cancer.

Built-In Methods of Wasting Ink

Yet in spite of the environmental impact, printer manufacturers continue to find ways to rig their products to have shorter lives. One of the methods by which printer manufacturers guarantee you'll purchase inkjet cartridges more frequently than you anticipate is overuse of color ink. Even if you print a document without assigning any color to text or images, the printer automatically uses some color ink. The excuse offered for this waste by technology industry apologists is that the printer subtly mixes colors into the apparently black print to create a subtly shaded "enhanced" black which has more visual impact. We doubt that most home and small business users need or want this kind of visual sophistication in their documents.

Forced ink waste also results from the alignment sheets automatically sent to print when someone installs a fresh cartridge in a printer. The self-cleaning process wastes ink and sends it into a waste reservoir where between 25% and 50% ends up from the frequent, automatic cleaning cycles which keep the jet nozzles clean. (You can view a video clip illustrating this here: Also, printers often send a message to your computer that ink is too low to print even when some ink remains in the cartridge, meaning consumers throw out partially filled cartridges.

What you can do

How can you avoid the extra expense and environmental consequences of the printer manufacturer policies? There is some minimal lessening of the environmental burden by using repurposed cartridges. You can try re-filling your cartridges, although this can be a messy job. You can want to look into an ink saver software such as Preton's.

We haven't used it and we can't vouch for it, but it sounds like worthwhile concept. Some office supply stores will give you a discount on new cartridges if you return the old ones to them.

Although this article focuses on inkjet printers, this is not to imply laser printers are superior. The toner used in those printers is even more toxic than ink; in fact some studies show emissions from office laser printers may be as harmful to workers as cigarette smoke. Overall, it is best to cut down on printing as much as possible. This will save paper as well as reduce the cost (both to you and the environment) of inkjet cartridges.


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