Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Era of Disposable Printers

A year ago, I purchased a Hewlett Packard OfficeJet Pro K550 for my home. It's a networked printer that enables any computer in my household to easily print via IP.

We actually do not print very often - we're a near paperless household, so the printer only gets about 1000 pages a year of activity.

It turns out that the HP K550 has a few design deficiencies that have been described on the web. If the printer is not used frequently, the print heads clog and need to be replaced.

Last week, I tried to print a document and the printer failed with an unrecoverable error condition. Per the manual, the HP website, and various online forums, the recommendation was to power down the printer, disconnect all network cables, and then reboot everything after a few minutes.

That did not solve the problem, so the next step was to purchase new printer cartridges and print heads.

Numerous people have had this problem as illustrated by this customer complaint website

I stopped by Staples and found that printheads for the OfficeJet Pro series are $70 each and you need 2 - $140 in print heads.

A suite of ink cartridges include $38 for black and $27 each for Cyan, Magenta and Yellow - that's $120.

Thus, a replacement for the clogged printhead and ink is $260.00

The HP K550 was replaced by the HP K5400 to correct the design defects. A brand new HP K5400 with a full set of new print heads and new cartridges is $149.00 (see photo above). The print capability of the new cartridges is over 1000 pages.

Hmmm - should I pay $260.00 to repair my old printer or pay $149.00 to get a new one. In fact, every year when I need to replace my ink cartridges, why bother - just buy a new printer. With the Staples printer rebate (the HP K5400 is $125.00 today), it's actually cheaper to buy a new printer rather than to buy cartridges.

I understand the economics of this. It's a bit like the Gillette razor - give the razor away and commit every shaver to a lifetime of Gillette blade purchases.

However, the environmental impact of tossing a few razor handles is far less than disposing of a printer yearly.

Being an environmentally responsible person, I purchased the $260 of print heads and ink to repair my old printer. I installed them, followed every online recommendation and found that the HPK550 could not be salvaged.

The great news is that the K5400 uses the same cartridges, so I purchased a new printer. I now have a fully functional K5400 and two years of ink cartridges.

My old K550 went into equipment recycling at the Wellesley RDF.

It's truly twisted economics when it's cheaper to dispose of your printer yearly than to buy supplies. I think back on my beloved HP LaserJet II that printed perfectly, lasted a decade, and had affordable supplies.

Maybe as the cost of energy and raw materials increases, HP will try a greener approach and make high quality, long lasting printers, with environmentally sound ink cartridges that encourage recycling and reuse rather than yearly printer disposal.
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