Monday, December 10, 2012

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You will probably recall the memorable scene in the 1985 movie “Back to the Future” when Dr Emmett Brown stuffs garbage into the “Mr Fusion Home Energy Unit” on his iconic time machine. The rubbish, including a banana skin and a beer can, fueled the fusion reaction that powered the iconic Delorean car into time travel. In an increasingly environmentally conscious world the search is on to produce energy and other consumables from eco-friendly and renewable sources. Recycling is all the rage but did you know that you may soon be able to use some of your trash in your printer?

The Cost of Your Ink

The ink in your printer is one of the most expensive liquids on the planet (see this infographic!). Running your printer is a costly exercise and conventional ink products are not kind to the environment either. Inks are manufactured using precious oil and heavy metals and release damaging volatile organic compounds into the atmosphere. Roughly 300 million ink cartridges end up in landfill each year dumping tons of wasted plastic, metal and rubber into the ground. Wouldn't it be amazing if you could recycle food waste in your printer? Well the future may be about to arrive!

The Future of Printing

The Riti Printer

Korean designer Jean Hwan Jo has produced a concept printer for the Greener Gadgets Design Competition which uses coffee grounds and tea dregs to print with instead of ink! The RITI printer has a refillable case instead of a disposable cartridge which saves the planet from yet more poorly degrading plastics in landfill. You simply fill the case with old coffee grounds and tea leafs, add water and you have a printing solution ready to go. The printer is also energy saving as it uses no power in the printing process, you move the print head from side to side by hand. You will, however, require a power source to the machine in order to upload the data to be printed.


There are downsides to this method of printing. Obviously your ink supply would be dependent on your hot drink consumption although this would not be problematic for the coffee addicted like me! The print laid down is brown which is fine for domestic files and internal use in an office but the lack of black or colour capability limits the potential of the machine. Manual operation of the printer head makes the process very slow and prevents the possibility of working on other things whilst your documents are printing. All this said, the gadget is only at the concept stage. It will probably never go into production in its current form but this innovative printer does at least raise the possibility of using cheap and renewable materials for ink.

Other Developments

Happily renewable eco-friendly materials are already being used in printing. Inks based on soy rather than petroleum products are already being widely used in commercial printing and soy based ink is available for domestic use in compatible cartridges for many commonly used printers. Be careful with soy cartridges many only contain a small amount of soy and still have high levels of oil. At the moment soy based ink does have some limitations as is dries more slowly than conventional products due to the absence of the oil based solvent. This is not an issue for printing onto highly absorbent paper like news print, but not so good for glossy paper stock. A high proportion of newspaper printing already utilizes soy based ink.

The Future

The new sustainable ink technology currently has limitations but we can at least see the potential for development. Who can know what might be around the corner, ink for your Canon made of liquorice? Perhaps aniseed ink for your Lexmark? Whatever happens the future appears to have arrived.

Guest author S. Stacey often blogs on topics surrounding sustainability and the environment.  On this occasion S. Stacey has worked in conjunction with Cartridges Direct UK who manufacture and retail remanufactured ink cartridges for the latest generation of printers including Canon 511 ink cartridges.

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Rizwan Ahmad
About the Author:
This article is contributed by Alexander Weary and posted by Rizwan Ahmad Author and founder of, He is a tech blogger from India and he loves to share his thoughts by writing articles on this site to the different topics related to technology world,

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