Yes, you read the title right! Can you really print more and become more environmentally friendly? This doesn’t seem to make sense, so let’s dive deeper to understand the issues.
We’re all aware that doing our part for the environment is increasingly important, and in education, printing is one of the first things many eco-schemes look at. However, there isn’t a lot of information about how printing actually impacts the environment so today I wanted to break it down.
Printing learning materials, reports or just admin sheets all comes with a CO2 cost which can be broken down into 4 elements:
Energy Use: Printers and copiers are significant consumers of energy, which contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
Ink Consumption: The production and disposal of ink can have harmful effects on the environment. Many inks contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which contribute to air pollution and can even be harmful to human health. The production of printer cartridges is also resource-intensive, and many used cartridges unfortunately end up in landfills as they’re very difficult to recycle (due to their need to withstand high temperatures in the printing process)
E-Waste: Printers, like all electronics, have a finite lifespan. When they reach the end of their useful life, they can become a source of electronic waste (e-waste), which can be harmful if not disposed of properly. In school I’m sure you’re no stranger to the big bulky office printer being out of service, and this is because older printing technology has hundreds of moving parts, each of which wears down and eventually needs to be replaced (or worse, needing to replace the printing unit)
Paper Consumption: Schools are significant consumers of paper. This isn’t a surprise as learning resources are a core part of every education system. Each year, millions of reams of paper are used in schools for handouts, tests, administrative paperwork, and more. Producing paper requires large amounts of water, energy, and trees, while also generating waste and emissions.
Over the past decade, much of the focus has been on how schools should look to reduce paper usage, with many even calling for paperless schools. Driven by the introduction of mobile devices (the first iPad came out 13 years ago now), paperless schools remain a far off dream as opposed to an attainable reality.
However, in this same period, another technological innovation has been happening which hasn’t got even half the press as iPads did. Heat free printing, a technology that has slashed the energy usage (and therefore CO2 footprint) of school printers. What also might surprise you, is that paper consumption, often cited as the main culprit for environmental impact, is not the biggest factor in the carbon footprint of printing - the biggest factor is energy usage.
In my previous post, I dove into the benefits of heat free printing, outlining how the technology works for the environment and your school, so today I’m not going to go over those same points, but instead take you on a deep dive of the numbers. I’m going to show you how you can print more and become more environmentally friendly.
All you need to do is switch to heat free printers.
The Carbon Footprint of Energy
There isn’t any data on how many pages the average UK school uses, so instead I’ve chosen to illustrate this by taking 50,000 sheets of paper (10x 500 reams of paper which is a pretty common paper order for many schools we talk with).
A traditional school printer copier combo will use around 0.03-0.05 kWh per page depending on the make and model. If we take the average value (0.04 kWh) and multiply this by the 50,000 sheets of paper we want to print, that's 2,000 kWh of energy used.
The amount of CO2 produced per kWh can vary by season but we can take the annual average as a benchmark. In 2019, the UK's Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy reported that the average CO2 emission per kWh from the UK energy grid was approximately 0.233 kg.
Now we have both figures, we can calculate the amount of CO2 produced from the electricity required to run the printer:
2,000 kWh * 0.23 kg CO2 = 460 kg of CO2 to print 50,000 A4 sheets.
That, I’m sure you’ll agree, is a surprising amount of CO2!
The Carbon Footprint of Paper Production
The carbon footprint of a box of paper can vary depending on a range of factors (such as the type of paper, the manufacturing process, and the distance it's transported). As a general guideline, though, one report from the Environmental Paper Network suggests that one metric ton of uncoated virgin (non-recycled) general use office paper requires about 2.26 metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) to produce.
10 reams (each with 500 sheets of paper), is roughly around 20 kg which equates to 45 kg of CO2.
While higher than we’d probably like it to be, what’s most surprising is just how little that is in comparison to the CO2 impact of the electricity used. It’s 10x less!
The Hidden Factor - Ink Cartridges
The CO2 emissions associated with ink cartridges are shocking when you first learn about them. A study by Best Foot Forward estimated that a single inkjet cartridge has a carbon footprint of approximately 0.46 kg CO2, due to the energy-intensive process of manufacturing the plastic and metal components, as well as the chemical ink.
That doesn’t sound like much but we’re not dealing with toner cartridges here so to print 50,000 sheets, we would need around 250 cartridges (depending on brand)! So, 250 cartridges * 0.46 kg CO2 per cartridge = 115 kg of CO2.
While toner cartridges have a higher capacity, each cartridge has a much higher CO2 cost, estimated to be 4.8kg per cartridge. The average print capacity is 4,000 pages, which means we would still need 13 cartridges which produces 63kg of CO2. Much better than inkjet cartridges but still very high!
In total, printing 50,000 pages on a typical school print copier combo will produce 568 kg of CO2.
Reducing your Printing - A False Economy
Most initiatives take aim at reducing pages printed. Not only is this very hard to do in a school but this is a false economy when you look at the alternative of switching to heat free printers...
To illustrate this, let’s imagine a school halves their printing, which would be a huge feat.
Instead of printing 50,000 pages, 25,000 are printed, also halving the CO2 produced. In total that would produce: 568 kg / 2 = 284 kg.
284 kg is the figure to beat…
Let’s turn our attention heat free print technology. Although not an exciting part of technology for most people, it is an incredible technological breakthrough because it can print to the same quality, at a faster rate AND it uses 87% less energy while doing so.
Starting with 50,000 print out calculation, our traditional school printer used 2,000 kWh. On EcoPrinters, that figure drops to just 260 kWh.
From this we can work out that the CO2 produced by the EcoPrinter from the energy used is 60 kg of CO2. (260 kWh * 0.23 kg kWh)
If you remember back, the traditional school printer created 460 kg of CO2 for the same 50,000 print outs so we’ve just saved an incredible 400kg of CO2 output just from switching the school printer.
Next we need to add the CO2 footprint of paper back in. This doesn’t change whether we use a traditional printer or a heat free printer and remains fixed at 45kg.
Finally there is the ink component. Our EcoPrinters have a unique ink recycle technology which means we refill the printer as opposed to switching any cartridges or toners. This reduces the CO2 impact, but as there’s no data to say how much of a cartridge CO2 impact comes from the ink vs the packaging, we can’t say with certainty on what the reduction is. For an easy calculation, I’ll say it halves the CO2 produced. This means we need to add 32 kg to our final calculation.
Tallying the Scores
So let's see how the 3 options compare:
Starting out with the traditional school printer copier, printing 50,000 A4 sheets produced 568 kg of CO2.
We then halved our printing, doing 25,000 on the same printer. This produced 284 kg of CO2.
Finally, we looked at the EcoPrinter, a heat free alternative. To print 50,000 A4 sheets produced just 105 kg of CO2.
In fact, the energy performance is so good, that you could print out 4x as much and still save over 150 kg in CO2 output versus your existing school printer.
Now I’m not suggesting that you should print more, but I also don’t think that schools should have to choose between printing learning resources or improving their environmental impact. With heat free printing technology found in EcoPrinters, you don’t have to choose. You can do both and sleep better as a result!
If you would like to learn more and have a demonstration of our heat free EcoPrinters, get in touch via the chatbot in the bottom right corner, or email us at email@example.com.