Top 5 Ways to Cut Printer Waste

You don't have to drastically change your habits to become a more resourceful printer user.
You don't have to drastically change your habits to become a more resourceful printer user.

When you're rushing to get this week's report to your ornery boss, or making last-minute changes to a presentation you were supposed to deliver 10 minutes ago, the last thing you want to worry about is how much ink or paper you're using in the process. But before you hit the "print" button on your computer, pause just a moment to think about this:

  • If you're like the average worker in the United States, you print about 10,000 pages a year. Of that, an estimated 1,410 pages are wasted.
  • You, together with every other employee in the United States, use up 8 million tons (7 million metric tons) of office paper each year, or the equivalent of 178 million trees. Less than half of that is recycled.
  • To produce just 1 ton (0.9 metric tons) of office paper requires the same amount of energy it takes to power the average home for 10 months.
  • More than 350 million ink cartridges are discarded in landfills each year. Each cartridge can take up to 450 years to decompose.
  • [Sources: EPA, Reuters, UC Davis]

Conserving paper and ink by printing more efficiently not only protects the environment, it also saves money. Going green makes good business sense.

You don't have to drastically change your work habits to become a more resourceful printer user. Little steps can go a long way toward reducing your office ecological footprint.

Here are five simple tips to reducing printer waste. Read them, commit them to memory, but please -- don't print them.


Conserve Energy

Turning your printer off at night can save a lot of money.
Turning your printer off at night can save a lot of money.

Your printer may not seem like a huge energy drain, but multiply it by an entire office full of printers, and all of the large office buildings in the country, and the energy use becomes substantial. One of the best ways to reduce your printer consumption is by purchasing an energy-efficient printer.

The most energy-efficient printers reduce energy usage, cut costs and help prevent paper waste. Look for a printer with the Energy Star label, which means that it has met the U.S. government's requirements for energy efficiency.

Many newer printers come with a power-save feature that puts the printer into sleep mode when it's not in use. Power-save makes your printer more energy efficient by shutting it down at night, on the weekends or whenever it's been sitting dormant for a certain period of time. If your computer does not have a sleep mode, turn it off or unplug it whenever it's not in use. Just turning your printer off at night can cut its annual energy cost by $30 or more [source: APS].


Recycle, Reuse

Make sure a recycling bin is nearby for everyone in the office.
Make sure a recycling bin is nearby for everyone in the office.

Don't buy new ink and toner cartridges each time you run out. You'll condemn all of those used cartridges to centuries spent sitting in landfills. Buy recycled toner cartridges and remanufactured ink cartridges. Refill your cartridges instead of buying new ones. If you absolutely have to get new cartridges, drop off the old ones at a cartridge recycler. Many business retailers and printer companies have print-cartridge recycling programs in place.

Buy only recycled paper, and recycle the paper you use. Make sure everyone at your company has an easily accessible recycling bin near his or her desk and printer.

If you accidentally print pages that are blank or have minimal text on them, turn them over and stick them back in the printer to be used again. Or, cut those pages into small pieces and use them as scrap paper. You can even use padding compound to make your own scratch pads.


Conserve Ink

Cartridges last a lot longer than most manufacturers claim.
Cartridges last a lot longer than most manufacturers claim.

Unless you're printing out an important document for a client or presentation, use the draft setting in your computer's print options. Printing in draft mode will not only use less ink, but it will also print more quickly. You won't even notice the difference in quality.

You also don't need to print in color every single time. Color ink is more expensive than black ink is. Change your printer properties to print in grayscale, and you'll save money on color cartridges.

You may not realize it, but most fonts are big ink wasters. Ecofont is a new type of font that conserves ink by omitting parts of each letter. The slightly holier font doesn't affect readability, but it can cut back how much you spend on ink.

When your printer sends a message that it's low on ink, ignore it. Manufacturers want you to run out and buy a new ink cartridge before your ink has run out. Don't do it. Have a refill on hand, but wait until the quality of your printed page starts to deteriorate before replacing the ink. You should be able to print dozens more pages, even after your ink has supposedly run out. You can also get more life out of each toner cartridge by shaking it up when it's running low.


Use Paper Wisely

You don't have to stop printing entirely, but you can make better use of your printer paper. If you haven't already noticed, each piece of paper comes with not one, but two sides. Why not use both of them? By changing your printer settings to double-sided, you'll immediately cut your paper consumption in half.

Another great way to conserve paper is by using all of the available space on a sheet. Trim your margins back by changing the settings on your page setup. Just reducing your margins from 1 inch to 0.5 inch can cut several pages off a large document. One report by Penn State University found that the university could save 72 acres (291,373 square kilometers) of forest and more than $120,000 a year just by reducing margin settings throughout the campus [source: UC Davis]. You can also fit more onto each page by changing your Word preferences to print multiple pages per sheet.

Adjusting your font can also help you get more out of each page. Reduce the font size, or download the new EverGreen font, which is designed to maximize the number of words that can be squeezed onto each page without affecting readability.

The Web is a particularly notorious paper waster. How many times have you printed out a 30-page document, only to find that 20 of those pages consisted of ads and empty space? You can help reduce waste by previewing documents from the Web before you print them and selecting only the range of content you want to print. If you don't want to sift through each Web page yourself, download software that eliminates Internet print waste. GreenPrint analyzes every page of every Web document you send to the printer and gets rid of ads, logos and empty pages for you.


Think Before You Print

To really cut back on your printer waste, try not printing at all.
To really cut back on your printer waste, try not printing at all.

The best way to conserve paper and ink is to not print in the first place. If you don't absolutely have to print something, don't do it. Convert documents to PDF form and e-mail them. Save your documents on your hard drive or portable drive instead of printing them. And have your computer set reminders for you or send them to your personal electronic device instead of printing hard copies of your calendar or events.

Web pages are among the biggest paper wasters. Sometimes a single Web page can produce 30 or more pages when printed. Get in the habit of reading pages online instead of printing them.

Also don't print drafts of documents to proofread them. Do your editing right on the computer. Word has a handy "track changes" feature that makes it far easier to edit documents on the computer than on paper. If you find pages hard to read on your monitor, increase the display size to more than 100 percent.


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Related HowStuffWorks Articles


  • California Integrated Waste Management Board. "Waste Prevention and Recycling at the Office."
  • Federal Energy Management Program. "How to Buy an Energy-Efficient Printer."
  • Greenprint.
  • Ink Guides. "Print Smart -- Learn how to save money and reduce waste."
  • Reuters. "Cartridge World Says, 'Please Don't Feed the Landfill." April 3, 2008.
  • The Good Human. "Do One Thing: Save Ink and Reduce Waste by Making Small Adjustments to Your Printing."
  • UC Davis. "Reduce Printer and Paper Use."