Q: I know that I should consider the environment when printing, but there are so many options, I don’t know which method is the best. What is the most sustainable printing method?

A: With a myriad of options from paper type to printing device, the choices available to you can be dizzying. The absolute best way to protect the environment is to think before you ink. If you do not need a physical copy of a document, save the ink, paper, energy and trees and don’t print it. Read and distribute it electronically. If you must print, use the following list to determine the method that works for your situation:

  1. Print to a networked copier device. The Reynolda campus alone employs 185 of these devices networked to thousands of personal and office computers. Copiers like those used by the university provide huge energy savings for the university over laser printers and personal inkjet printers because when not in use, they enter a hibernate mode that does not actively consume energy. Laser printers on the other hand are on all the time unless you intentionally turn them off. An additional benefit? Many copier devices have duplex printing capability meaning that they can be set to print double-sided automatically resulting in up to a 50 percent reduction in paper and toner use. The university models are also equipped with scan-to-e-mail technology to further decrease paper waste and provide all the documents you need right in your Wake e-mail account. As with any device, be sure to print double-sided and on paper with a post consumer recycled content of at least 30 percent to minimize your waste. Students can use the copiers located in the library and faculty and staff should utilize their networked department copier devices.
  2. If you cannot use a copier device, use a laser printer. Though nowhere near as energy efficient as a shared, networked copier device, laser printers can be used in more sustainable fashions to decrease their negative impact on the environment. Purchase remanufactured toner cartridges from companies dedicated to taking them back once they are empty. Try Office Depot for starters. Be sure to ask what happens to the cartridges at the end of their life spans, once they can no longer be reused.
    Again, set your printer to duplex print and print double sided every time. Use recycled paper and limit your printing. Turn off the printer when not in use and unplug it to eliminate vampire energy use. And at the end of the life of your laser toner cartridge, make sure to recycle it by placing it in your office’s toner recycling bin or mailing it back to the company that sold it to you, where it will be remanufactured, down-cycled, or disposed of in a way that doesn’t wreck the planet.
  3. Use your personal inkjet printer only as a last resort. The biggest problem with personal inkjet printers is their disposability. The printers themselves are so cheap (and cheaply made) that when they break, we usually just send them to the trash can and buy a new one for less than the price of repair. Disposal methods are different for university owned and privately owned printers. If and when you find yourself with a useless personal inkjet printer, take it to the 3RC EnviroStation for proper disposal. If your university-owned printer stops working, put in a work order with Facilities and Campus Services so that the unit can be stored and disposed of properly. Be sure to print double-sided and purchase the highest percentage of post consumer recycled paper you can afford. Buy inks that are water or plant-based instead of petroleum-based to minimize the consumption of fossil fuels and help limit pollution at the end of their life cycle. When the cartridge is empty, bring it to the University Bookstore on the Quad so it can be refilled for a small fee. If it can’t be refilled anymore, place it in the TechnoTrash bin in the Book Store, ZSR Library or the Office of Sustainability so that it can be recycled appropriately. Never trash your cartridges!

For even more sustainable printing tips, check out the university’s Sustainable Printing Guidelines.