Paper, ink, and toner management

Paper, ink, and toner action areas


Paper used in printers has a large environmental impact. In fact, the production of one ton of paper may require 12 to 24 trees, creating greenhouse gas emissions and leading to deforestation if not done properly.

In addition, inks and toners used in printers have a large impact. Many printer cartridges contain VOCs and heavy metals, making them toxic, potentially harmful for human health and responsible for air and water pollution1.

To manage this, there are several actions that have emerged in best practice and at other higher education institutions which can help reduce the impact of printing.

Paper management


Secure pull printing

pull printing

Best practice: Use secure pull printing options on centralized printers where available.

Action: Secure pull printing systems allows users to verify and approve their printing job before releasing it7. This decreases waste since automatic printing does not occur and it is easier to cancel jobs if desired. It also enhances security since someone else cannot take another person’s printed documents, and it increases productivity since multiple documents can be released and collected at the same time8. It also supports more confidence in using shared departmental printers instead of single office printers, since shared printers are typically more efficient and are easier to manage.

Paper recycling

Stack of Paper

Best practice: Recycle paper that can no longer be reused.

Action: Place paper that can longer be reused in recycling bins. Recycling paper reduces the amount of deforestation needed to procure wood materials to make more paper. At Waterloo, printer paper can be placed in either the white Fine Paper bins (typically located next to printers) or in any grey bin recycling stream marked as “Papers”.

Minimizing printing

Online document

Best practice: Minimize printing by performing communications and transactions digitally where possible2.

Action: Only print when you absolutely need a paper copy. Adobe has many embedded tools to read, highlight and comment on electronic documents, and to insert digital signatures.

Double-sided printing

double sided printing

Best practice: Print double-sided and make double-sided printing the default for all printers.

Action: Users should keep this default whenever possible2. Double-sided printing reduces the amount of paper consumed which results in less deforestation. Default settings make it easier to print double-sided.

FSC Certified Paper + Recycled content papers

Recycled paper

Best practice: Purchase paper with post-consumer recycled content or with the FSC certification.

Action: The use of post-consumer recycled paper, made with fibers from recycling used paper, should be prioritized. If recycled paper is not available, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified is another good option3. The FSC certification demonstrates that the forest management practices do not negatively impact biodiversity, local citizens and workers4. FSC Certified Paper and recycled content paper are both available through Procurement and Contract Services in bulk, through Staples E-way for departmental purchases, and can be requested during the design process from Creative Services.

Paper reuse

Paper stack

Best practice: Collect and reuse paper that has only been used on one side.

Action: Non-confidential paper with text on only one side should be collected, using containers near printers, and reused5 for informal purposes such as writing reminders, taking notes, etc. Reusing paper instead of taking a completely blank sheet saves an incredible amount of virgin paper. To ensure confidentiality concerns are met6, printed documents containing personal information should be shredded instead.

Ink and toner management

Printer cartridge recycling

printer cartridge recycling

Best practice: At the end of their life, recycle printer cartridges.

Action: Ink and toner cartridges should not go in the garbage, since many contain toxic material and can damage the environment or human health.

On campus, there is a recycling program through Central Stores with drop-off bins.

Other off-campus recycling options include returning them for free to most manufacturers (HP, Brother, Lexmark, Canon, Canon Toner, Xerox, Okidata, Panasonic, Ricoh, Samsung, Sharp and Dell); mail-back programs; drop off at supply retailers (e.g, Staples and Office Depot)12.

Maximize the life of ink and toner cartridges


Best practice: For any printers at home, maximize the life of ink and toner cartridges to reduce their environmental footprint11.

Action: This can be done through printhead cleaning, shaking the cartridges, using a hair dryer to blow the nozzles on the cartridge, using paper towel to remove ink that dried on the nozzles, covering the chip sensor with black electrical tape and swapping cartridges. Care must be taken to replace the printer cartridges when they are empty to prevent printer damage11.

Safe indoor air quality


Best practice: Choose inks and toners that do not impact the indoor air quality.

Action: Many inks and toner contain VOCs, which may be harmful for human health. The chemicals contained in the products can be found on the Safety Data Sheets9.

Printer cartridge materials

ocean plastics

Best practice: Purchase printer cartridges made from post-consumer plastics, closed loop, or ocean bound plastics9.

Action: Post-consumer plastics result in a 60% lower carbon footprint10. Also, closed loop recycling allows a product to be turned back into a new version of the same product11. Purchasing ocean bound plastics can prevent more plastic from ending up in the ocean.

Draft mode printing


Best practice: Use draft mode for printing whenever possible.

Action: Draft mode allows for lower quality printing that is still easily legible. Draft mode saves considerable amounts of ink and toner12. Enabling default setting on your computer can also make draft mode printing automatic until you change the quality.

[1] (Green Economy Canada, Sustainable IT Procurement Pilot: Implementation Workshop, 2021)

[2] (Green Economy Canada, Sustainable IT Procurement Pilot: Implementation Workshop, 2021)

[3] (Green Economy Canada, Sustainable IT Procurement Pilot: Implementation Workshop, 2021)

[4] (FSC, n.d.)

[5] (Penn State Green Destiny Council, 2002)

[6] (Stowell, 2021)

[7] (Green Economy Canada, Sustainable IT Procurement Pilot Action Plan Workshop, 2020)

[8] (PrinterOn, 2016)

[9] (Cash4Toners, n.d.)

[10] (Taylor-Smith, 2019)

[11] (Roegner, 2019)

[12] (Penn State Green Destiny Council, 2002)