Can Mass Market Printing Technology Ever Go Fully Green?

These days, green technology is all the craze, and one of the things that most companies and industries are now judged on is how environmentally friendly their technology or products are. This can be a bit of a major dilemma for pretty much anyone in the printing industry, considering almost everything about the industry is damaging to the environment. Printing takes paper, killing trees, and ink, exposing all kinds of dangerous chemicals to the environment. And although the industry keeps coming out with ‘green solutions’ are any of them actually green? And further, can the printing industry really become environmentally safe?

The Inks

If you weren’t aware, all Ink and Toner is made with a heavy assortment of chemicals that often don’t degrade, pigments that stain, and oils that can’t be reused (Toner is absent of oils). This makes the ink area of printing one of the most environmentally damaging parts, that can’t really be overcome much without an overall of a completely different inking method, not requiring pigments.

Yes, many people have talked about the process of Soy Ink and vegetable based inks, which are better than the normal inks, being able to improve the situation. But the oils changing to vegetable base is only one part of the issue and not the main concern. Oils can’t really be reused, but the chemicals and pigments that sit in those oils are even worse for the environment and we still haven’t found a proper replacement for them.

Only recently have fully ink-free printers started to emerge, but only in small sizes and still using damaging paper that can’t then be recycled, due to ink crystals on the paper.

So is there a solution to this ink problem? Not with current technology means for printers. Something major would have to be done in terms of innovation, which the printing industry isn’t exactly known for. It’s worse for Toner cartridges which use a powder composite.

The Printers

Don’t think the printers can get off quite so easily, after all because of the way printers are designed in being able to put ink on the paper we end up with, we have this problem in the first place. Printers are terribly inefficient monsters that suck up a lot of resources, from electricity to paper and ink or even just the plastics and pieces it is made of. And worst of all is that everyone bears with it because there really isn’t much of an alternative when it comes to printing.

The main issue for printer hardware tends to be the pieces it is made of not being recyclable. This is why we see them right alongside all the cartridges. And this is actually one of the directions and areas we can improve the system. Printers don’t have to be made from non-reusable materials; they just are because it is supposed to be cheaper.

Besides the printer parts though, there is also the pure design of the printer, often times built with needing to constantly put in a new print head (attached to the ink cartridge), and the often high chance of them breaking down and relying on being repaired or replaced within a year (which although not the worst upkeep time for a piece of technology still adds up).

The Papers

Finally we have our paper, which is probably the easiest one to take care of and why it was last. We have already developed means of creating recyclable paper in most cases, though paper with inks in them are harder to recycle as well as special papers like ones with chemicals built in them (photo paper). Luckily in most cases though the paper can be pulped and restored in some way which gives us some means of recycling, but there is still the problem of chopping the trees down regularly.

When it comes down to it, without some major change and innovation there isn’t a clear way of making the printing industry green, as almost everything about it seems to completely counteract what environmentally friendly tech is supposed to be. Maybe someday in the future this might manage to change, but for now we are left with a greenless industry in technology.

Brian Prowse is a writer and self-proclaimed tech geek. He writes for sites such as When he’s not writing or playing around with the coolest gadgets on the market, Brian enjoys traveling and graphic design.

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