An ecologically unsustainable business model


Given the Copenhagen Summit this week (I have low expectations of that BTW), I thought I’d present my own ecologically themed piece.

Computer hardware is getting cheaper and cheaper all the time. It’s almost unbelievable how much computing power and utility we can purchase today, compared to just 3 or 5 years ago. This is true for servers, storage, printers, monitors, networking equipment etc.

But, as our needs grow, or hardware fails, and new equipment arrives, what do we do with the old equipment? One area of personal frustration with computer hardware is with low end home/office printers. Printers can be bought new (or refurbished) for less than the cost of the replace ink/toner for those very same printers.

I wrote about the crazy pricing model of computer printers here. It’s been a couple of years since I wrote that and unfortunately the time has come to replace one of my printers (again)!

Canon, can you spare a print head

This time, it’s a Canon MP 610 printer. It’s actually a nice printer. It does all the usual stuff — scanning, printing, copying etc. It has independent ink cartridges for every colour so you only need to refill what you use. In fact, it has 2 black ink cartridges. One is used for text and is large capacity. The other is used for images and is “normal” size.

So what happened? To make a long story short. The printer won’t print black text through the large capacity black text cartridge. Apparently, we don’t use the printer “enough” and the print head got clogged. And apparently, this clogging is a common problem when ink-jet printers are not used regularly.  Given the price I pay for ink-jet ink, why would I use it for printing text. I use my laser printer for that!

I tried to remedy the problem, but no amount of self cleaning via the printer’s maintenance program would fix the problem. So I took it to a printer repair store. The guy there said the print head was blocked and he’d try to clean it. After cleaning, he put it back in the printer and the printer refused to accept it. A message was displayed on the screen indicating the print head was not installed.

What if a spark plug cost $1000?

The remedy? Get a new print head. I called Canon Canada. They passed me to a parts supplier. The parts supplier quoted me a price of $119 for the print head!

The entire printer (with ink!) is available online for about $150 and they’re charging me $119 for a print head. Oh yeah, and all sales are final, so if the new print head doesn’t remedy the problem, I’m out $120. Would people stand for this price gouging if it were applied to car parts?

So now I have a useless printer. And this is not the first time this happened. I had the exact same problem occur with an all-in-one Epson printer (shown at right).

Can I send my junk into the Sun?

The Epson printer is in a box in my basement. I didn’t want to take it and dump it at the landfill. Now I have 2 printers that are useless to me.

And in case you are wondering, whether I’m getting another printer. The answer is yes.  My kids do use the colour printer for school projects. So what’s my solution?

I was tempted to buy a Canon MP 640. It’s a really nice printer. It’s like my 610 but has wireless and Ethernet networking support and a few other bonuses. Price would be about $200. But I decided against that.

For $39 — less than the cost of ink cartridges – I bought a Canon MP150. Actually I bought 2 of them! Why? Free shipping for orders over $50. Not quite as “nice” as the 640, but at 20% of the price of a replacement printer, and 33% of the price of the print head, it’s more than going to meet my kids’ needs. It also won’t dent my wallet too much either. And when the first one goes belly up, which it definitely will,  I’ll have a full second printer to replace it.

Am I proud of this conspicuous consumption? No.

Do I like all this technojunk I’m accumulating? Absolutely not.

But this is the result of ridiculous pricing policies and poor product design from printer manufacturers. Whether Epson, Canon, HP or anyone else; they’re all guilty of driving people to this behaviour.

  • If the replacement print head were $50 and there was an option to return it, I’d have bought that without question. I’m sure that price still gives Canon a healthy profit margin.
  • If these printers weren’t made with built-in obsolescence — why do the print heads constantly get blocked?? — I wouldn’t have to keep buying printers.
  • If these companies sold original printer ink at reasonable prices, I’d actually use more of it, continue to buy their inks and continue to give them a revenue stream.
  • If there were easy to access recycling and recovery programs SPONSORED by these manufacturers, most of this technojunk wouldn’t end up in landfill. And I’d be more inclined to purchase from those manufacturers.

I’m one person, and in a span of a few years, I’ve purchased 4 ink jet printers. Now multiply that by the millions of people who, like me, have similar problems and you see the scope of the problem.  Is this an ecologically sustainable system? Absolutely not.

If there is anyone reading this who works in the printer industry and would like to respond, I really want to hear from  you.

Saeed

P.S.

As mentioned at the top of the article, this technojunk problem is rampant within technology and not just with printers.  I have a couple of wired routers, a Wireless B router, a old cable modem, computer speakers, keyboards, old desktop PC cases, several burnt out motherboards and hard drives (internal and external) all collecting dust in my basement. I’m not a pack rat, but I loathe just taking this to the landfill.

I also have a 19 inch ViewSonic LCD monitor that stopped working 18 months after I bought it. Reparing it would cost more than the monitor’s purchase price.  It’s also in my basement collecting dust as I don’t want to take that to the dump either. Any suggestions on what to do with that? I’m sure it’s simply a circuity problem and the LCD is fully intact. Anyone know how I can use it to create a digital picture frame?

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5 responses to “An ecologically unsustainable business model

  1. Matthew Glidden

    It’s amazing where companies minimize product costs! Given how quickly 3rd-party cartridge makers undercut ink costs–and thus limit 1st-party profits–your suggested solution makes much more long-term sense.

    Happy that Staples recycles any brand of inkjet cart these days, so at least we have one chain’s buy-in to the idea. Wonder if that will encourage an actual manufacturer?

  2. Matthew,

    The 3rd party inkjet refill industry was entirely created because of the greed of the printer manufacturers. Now printer cartridges have chips on them — for what purpose? — to try to block the no-name refills. But there are now inkjet chip reset machines that you can buy for < 50 dollars to work around that "problem".

    It's unbelievable. It's like someone selling me a new car for $200 and then charging me $20 per gallon for gas when someone down the street will sell me gas for $3. Then the car maker puts a special lock on the gas tank that only can be opened at their gas stations. Then someone figures out how to pick those locks and the insanity continues.

    I paid $2000 for my first laser printer 20 years ago — 300 DPI 6ppm — and that was a great deal at the time and was a total workhorse. Used to print thousands of pages every month. Worked for 10 years until I couldn't get toner cartridges anymore. Toner was about $100 per cartridge.

    Now I can get a better laser printer — 2400 DPI 10ppm — for $100. It also scans/copies and faxes. But the toner still costs $100.

    Gee…what's wrong with that picture.

    Saeed

  3. Get a Brother ink jet. I also use my laser for most printing and it has never clogged on me.

    Still, if something breaks, you’ll be throwing it out over fixing it.

    • Greg, Thx. I have a Brother all-in-one laser and it works well. What model of Brother ink jet do you recommend?

      • I have an MFC 5490CN. I had the prior model, I think the 5480 but bought some off-label ink catridges. Those leaked and ruined the printer. I will not make that mistake again.