Why wasteful design still dominates, despite alternatives

(This originally appeared as a guest post by Tracey Rawling Church, director of brand and reputation at Kyocera Mita UK, on the Green Living Blog)

Of all the innovations of the computer age, the laser printer is probably the most inherently wasteful. This ubiquitous device is the product of a business model that seeks to maximise long-term revenue from the sale of premium priced consumables – often referred to as a “razor and blade” model.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s no technological reason for all that is mechanically clever about the device to be contained in a disposable cartridge; it’s a commercially-driven decision. But the need to justify the price premium charged for the cartridges has resulted in a complex product design that builds in redundancy.

A cartridge refurbishment industry has grown up to take advantage of the residual value in used toner cartridges, but it admits to only being able to return to the market 20-30% of the cartridges sold each year. And cartridges can’t be refurbished indefinitely: their components are not designed for extended use so print quality and reliability can be compromised. In theUKalone, it’s estimated that 47 million laser cartridges go to landfill every year, taking many thousands of tonnes of plastics and metals out of the economy.

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