Then we come to the manufacturing and disposal of printers. Much of the energy a printer will ever use has been expended in its manufacture. A range of substances are mined and extracted in its complex machinery, including substances from places in developing countries which don't always have good environmental or labour standards. They are then transported large distances due to the globalised manufacturing process. There are also problems with the model of production, especially cheap desktops, where due to the main revenue being from cartridge sales, the printers are priced at disposable levels, making repair much less cost effective than replacement. Many go to land fill eventually, contributing to a global e-waste problem the UN described as a "mountain of e-waste", much of it ending up being disposed of in the third world, often with a complete absence of environmental or labour concerns.
Hundreds of millions of printer cartridges are purchased every year, and less than half of the cartridges themselves are reused or recycled (Infotrends 2009). Even those that are returned to refilling depots are often not economically viable to refill and end up in land fill. The cartridges themselves also use a range of chemicals in their manufacture, which leach out into the environment if not disposed of properly. They also contribute to the worlds growing e-waste problem.
There are other aspects as well, pollution, paper packaging, transport, toxics from ink and toner, all of which need to be considered. Taken together, if we can print less, print double sided or two to a page more often, share a printer with colleagues, use more environmentally sensitive paper and print equipment, we can reduce our ecological footprint, without effecting our quality of life.
Like many aspects of our lives, there are complex environmental consequences to our printing behaviours we need to consider in our actions. The project to make printing more environmentally friendly at UEL will have positive benefits on our environment, far beyond UELs campuses. This is why as an environmental charity Global Action Plan is happy to be involved in helping UEL take this important initiative.