Many printing equipment manufacturers have set making of environment-friendly products as their priority. OEM companies have started producing casings for their cartridges and printers out of non-toxic and food grade plastic. Still, it is consumables - toner and ink - that are responsible for the major part of wastes.
People are still thrilled over the issue of printers and copiers being hazardous for human health. In Australia and Germany, scientists conducted a number of tests to verify if fine toner particles are harmful and cause cancer in human body. For instance, the scientists from Fraunhofer Wilhelm Klauditz Institute directed their attention not only to the exhaust strength of hazardous agents in form of toner dust, but also to the source of it. The results of the tests revealed that printers emit 5 times the street level of dust. At the same time, it was considered that printer parts are made of various organic materials that naturally exude some substance. The tests also showed that printer fuser exudes fine particles when constantly heated up to 220 Celsius to fuse toner to paper.
However, the researchers conventionally hold the view that emission of this kind is characteristic of any home appliances with built-in heating unit or engine: toasters, VCs, etc. Nevertheless, such frame of mind set a new, rarely positive attitude towards printing equipment. In an effort to dignify the printing industry and make it look greener, the manufacturers are developing new, less harmful products.
EcoToner Some companies are working on safer toner. OKI in cooperation with Niigata University is developing new ecotoner. This new kind of toner is made up of fine particles of biological nature that can be degraded by microorganisms. OKI launches the new ecotoner into market and begins using it with its printer this year, in 2010.
As of today, toner is either made of organic materials derived from oil (regular toner) or created in labs (chemical toner). When incinerated, it produces a decent amount of greenhouse gas, which contributes to larger carbon footprint. On the other hand, recycling of used paper requires additional energy, while chemical whitening of recycled paper is hazardous for the chemical reagents used.
The new ecotoner consists of a special protein degrading outdoors, coloring agents and other adhesive compounds.
According to Masato Tanaka, a member of the department developing the toner, carbon footprint of this toner will be reduced to zero. Besides, Masato says, amount of energy used to recycle paper will drop down, too.
SoyToner While OKI is developing its products out of chemically safe materials in lab, PRC Technologies company, a division of Print Recovery Concepts Inc, uses a different approach. In laser cartridges that company makes, toner is produced from soy beans under specific technical conditions. Mr. Overhaug, the president at PRC Technologies, says the soy toner cartridges price will match that of regular toner cartridges.
The marketing campaign of the soy toner highlights its "greenness", its ecological side. THE USA alone uses 100 million cartridges a year, which is 50,000 tons of regular toner made of oil products. The soy toner production is said to save energy consumption due to cheaper materials.
So, under the "Make Your Office a Greener Place!" slogan soy toner is entering the market. The company's products are available under the SoyPrint brand, pointing to the soy filler.
Reusable Paper Some vendors find more unordinary approaches to the problem of materials saving and ecology. The Xerox scientists have worked out paper that printed text disappears gradually on over 16-24 hours or instantly, if heated. After that paper comes blank again and can be reused. The paper looks very much like any regular paper, except for the pale yellow color.
Inkless Printing Zink would rather not use cartridges for printing at all. It's all about the paper. Zink Company, too, offers its proprietary paper, this time it's made of composites. The Zink technology is set apart from all other printers. The very printer resembles a heating device that "sense" color. The temperature corresponding to a color is applied to paper to form an image. It is the paper that is the chief part of the tandem. The paper is made of specific composite material with blue, yellow and red crystals covered with polymer. Exposed to heat, the material changes its color depending on the temperature. Initially, the paper is all white and looks like any other photo paper.
This technology, where all is about paper and no bulky cartridges are required, can be implemented in very small devices like mobiles, cameras and smartphones. And the Zink's capital gains will obviously be coming from paper sales.
It can be easy to speculate about the ways of future development of printing consumables. However, only time will show which technologies prove viable and become popular with customers.
Stan Retner is a printer supplies specialist and the marketing director at toner and ink selling site *Toner Cartridge Depot*