Printers and Why They’re a Problem for the Environment

Printers present a unique problem in e-waste recycling. They are largely mechanical, made from heavy plastics and only a small percentage (9%) can be refurbished and resold for reuse. Improperly disposed of printers pose a significant danger to the environment from the plastic housing, ink, toner and heavy metals they contain. Because their circuit boards are low grade in comparison to other types of electronics, they contain little value. Due to the short lifespan of printers, consumers have little choice but to replace them more often than other electronic devices.

Based on current statistics, printers are recycled at a faster rate than all other items such as laptops, desktops, etc., because they lose their alignment and are perceived as being easier and less costly to replace. For these reasons printers are typically considered a “negative value product” – meaning the cost of properly recycling or refurbishing them is higher than the market value of their material or the whole unit’s resale value.

Added to that, the potential environmental and human harm that come from discarded toner and ink makes proper recycling of these devices a necessity. Toner ink is a powdery substance emitted by most printer models. Those emissions have been measured in a study by an Australian research team and published in the online edition of the American Chemical Society‘s Environmental Science & Technology  journal. What they found was that the powder, which they refer to as “particulates” and also known as Carbon Black, is dispersed into the immediate environment. These particulates pose “a significant health threat,” according to the study’s authors, because of the particles’ small size, which makes them easy to inhale, subsequently becoming lodged in the lungs. The effects can include anything from respiratory irritation to cardiovascular disease and cancer.[1]  The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies Carbon Black as a 2B carcinogen and cautions against even getting it on your skin.[2] When toner cartridges are discarded into landfills, that powdery black substance is easily dispersed into the air and water supply when the cartridges begin to break down.

The only way to mitigate the potential hazards posed by printer toner and ink is by recycling printers and their components using a certified electronics recycler. Comprenew is both e-Stewards and R2 certified and adheres to a strict no landfill policy on all electronics and strongly encourages responsible recycling in order to protect people and the environment from the hazards they pose.


[1] Keizer, G. 2007. “Warning: Laser Printers Could Be a Health Hazard.” Retrieved from

[2] Sherber, C. 2017. “What are the Dangers of Toner Ink Exposure?” Retrieved from


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