Even in the digital age when a paperless office was thought to become a reality for most businesses, it is estimated that 95% of all businesses still store information on paper. According to the Paperless Project, an average office worker prints 10, 000 sheets of paper annually. Office printing can be a huge financial cost to businesses as well as being an environmental cost. With pressure on businesses to reduce the environmental impact of their operations, it is important for businesses to understand the environmental cost of printing on your organisation.
The Environmental Cost of Office Printing
Paper consumption worldwide has tripled over the last three decades with the global population using 407.5 million tonnes of paper in 2014. It is estimated that one third of this is attributed to paper used specifically for printing. South Africa produces approximately 320, 000 tonnes of office paper annually– this equates to 69.5 billion A4 sheets of paper.
Fast Facts About the Environmental Costs of Paper
The manufacture of paper impacts negatively on the environment in a variety of ways, including the production of massive amounts of waste, the use of precious natural resources such as water, trees and nonrenewable fossil fuels, as well as the release of air pollution into the atmosphere.
- For every 1 tree that gets cut down, roughly 9, 000 A4 pages are produced.
- It takes nearly half a litre of water to produce 1 sheet of A4 office paper, being the largest industrial user of water per kg of finished product.
- For every one tonne of paper produced (217, 392 A4 sheets), nearly a tonne of solid waste is produced.
- Current recycling rates of paper vary between 50-60%. That means that nearly half the paper produced is thrown away and ends up in our landfills.
- The paper and pulp industry is the fourth largest user of energy worldwide, using 49 watts for every 1 A4 sheet of paper.
It is estimated that over 1.3 billion printer cartridges are sold each year. According to the IDC, more than 12 million laser and ink cartridges are imported into South Africa every year.
Fast Facts About the Environmental Costs of Cartridges
Not only do printer cartridges make use of natural resources such as oil and iron ore to produce, their ink and toner contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that cause damage to both human health and the natural environment.
- It takes 2.8 – 3.7 litres of crude oil to produce one laser cartridge and 50-100 millilitres of crude oil to produce one ink cartridge.
- Greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing an original laser cartridge emits approximately 4.8 kg CO2 If 6 million OEM laser cartridges are used by South Africa, this equates to 28.8 million kg GHG emissions being emitted into the atmosphere. These emissions are the same emitted by 24,000 households per month (average household of 4 people).
- Between 70-80% of cartridges are used once and then disposed of. This equates to approximately 3.6 million kg of waste ending up in our landfills.
- According to South African legislation, printer cartridge waste is considered hazardous waste and needs to be disposed of correctly into a designated hazardous landfill. Cartridges not properly disposed of will pollute both soil and water and impact negatively on both human health and the environment.
It is estimated that 106 billion printers are sold annually. The majority of printers are plugged in 24 hours a day and sit in standby mode consuming electricity while waiting for print jobs to be sent to the device for printing.
Fast Facts About the Environmental Costs of Printers
- It is estimated that a printer exists for every 4-5 employees in an organisation.
- Printers and their power consumption can account for up to 7% of an organisation’s total electricity consumption.
- Only 15% of printer electricity usage is attributed to printing. The majority of electricity expenditure is while the device is on standby i.e. you are paying for electricity when the device isn’t in use.
Printers last between 3 and 5 years before needing to be replaced. These printers become hazardous waste (electronic waste) at end of life. As many countries do not have the facilities to appropriately handle electronic waste (e-waste), much of this e-waste is being dumped in developing countries, causing various health issues for the local communities and various environmental negative impacts, as hazardous compounds leak into the environment. The question is, who is responsible for waste?
Always consider the steps you can take with paper, cartridges and printers to recuse the impact. To learn more about the environmental impact, download our infographic.