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.


Frank Bresz said...

I have the same thoughts. I just recently purchased an all-in-one - including fax, to replace my old printer. I had tried using store-brand ink cartridges to no avail. I had the same dilemma - the cost wasn't quite as upside down as your situation - but it is a bit distressing that we are being financially incented to discard equipment.

Richard Dale said...

Great post ... reminds me of the fact it is cheaper to buy a new table cloth (from Linens'n'Things) than it is to send the table cloth to a cleaner! (Yes, mostly we just machine wash it at home.)

Dean said...

excellent post - we've got the same problem in Fiji.

My organization recently ran into printer trouble and the cost of repairing the printers exceeds the actual value of the printers which is weird because I always thought getting something repaired should be cheaper since you're only repairing/replacing a particular part. :)

e-Patient Dave said...

Disposable printers are one thing. Environmentally irresponsible disposable printers are something else entirely. That's knowingly making landfill for a buck, and that's unconscionable to me.

Did you try finding someone at HP headquarters who might be responsive to the concern?

Ross Martin said...

Are you sure you now have a two-year supply of cartridges? I've found that printers often come with "starter" doses of ink cartridges, giving you enough to get going, but not as much as full ones. This is even more like the razor analogy where the handle comes with one or two cartridges in a five-cartridge caddy.

John Halamka said...

Given that HP announced 25000 layoffs, they are a bit distracted right now. When the dust settles, I will certainly have a discussion with HP management about this topic

Keith W. Boone said...

It's not just printers. I have an HP iPaq Cell phone that took a bath in a bowl of water. The screen and backup battery needed to be replaced. Those two components together would cost me more than a new phone, and that doesn't include labor or any guarantee that the repair would restore the unit.

With laptops costing around $500 these days, anything that goes wrong with the motherboard or screen can easily cost more than a new unit.

My wife's car is constructed in a fashion that requires the alternator to be removed in order to replace the spark plugs.

These are all signs of designs that may make it easy to manufacture equipment, but not repair it.

My former Church is still using the HP Laser Jet Series II I donated to them in 1995. It was about five years old at the time. I'm on my fifth printer since then, and wishing I'd held onto it.

Usman said...

I've been annoyed with this issue since the 90's. My solution was to buy a black & white laser printer. The upfront cost may be higher but the toner doesn't dry up in a long time and definitely gives more pages per unit mass of ink. I believe most of our printouts do not need to be flashy color ones, and by far most professional documents need to be monochrome.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I also had a printer with the verrry same problem. Except mine was malfunctioning dearly on the print itself. No matter what I did, whether it was changing the ink cartridge or cleaning it on the inside, it still kept insisting on Not working! Frustrated much, I took it down to my local near by electronic store where I then had the machine 'put to sleep' and got myself a Brand New HP Vivera Printer! Oh my what a beauty and boy does she print! :)
Hp 4600 Toner