Preparing a Printer for Safe Disposal
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 2.37 million tons of electronics were thrown out in 2009, the most recent year for which the EPA had statistics available. This total included cell phones, computers, TVs and printers. While you can take measures to ensure that your printer is better prepared for disposal, an even safer, more responsible option is recycling or donating your printer.
Many printers have internal hard drives that save digital copies of the documents they've has printed. You should consult the manual to find out how to wipe the memory; there are also third-party programs that can overwrite the printer's hard drive. The most secure way of erasing data is to physically destroy the hard drive -- as long as you don’t lease the product. If you lease, consult with the company from which you lease the printer to find out how your data will be erased.
Electronics contain materials, such as nickel, zinc, cadmium and mercury that can wreak havoc on the environment and human health if they end up in landfills and seep into the soil and water supply. Printer ink and drums, specifically, contain cadmium; this is why ink cartridges and drums should be removed prior to disposal. Also, printers are primarily composed of metals and plastics. These can also be removed for remanufacturing purposes. This is cheaper and uses less energy than processing virgin materials; it also keeps them out of the waste stream.
Recycling allows manufacturers to reuse certain parts of the printer, thereby minimizing the burden on landfills. You can recycle your printer at centers throughout the country -- your state or city's website likely will have a list of such centers. Many electronics and office supply stores will also accept printers for recycling. In fact, according to the EPA, in the Region 5 states of Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois, it's illegal for electronic brand owners and retailers to throw out printers -- so if you fall into that category, you have to recycle.
Just because you need a new printer doesn't mean that your current printer has no value. In fact, returning your printer -- either to the manufacturer or to an office supply store -- can accomplish two things. It can ensure that the printer is properly disposed of and/or recycled. Also, certain brands and certain stores will thank you for returning the unit by offering you a credit towards your next purchase. Retailers such as Best Buy and brands like Samsung offer such "buy back" programs.
Donating your printer to charity or giving it to someone you know are ideal ways to make sure it is reused and doesn't get thrown into a landfill. In addition, if you donate the printer to charity, you can claim the value of the printer as a charitable contribution if you itemize deductions on your income taxes. If you're a business owner, giving away or raffling off outdated but still usable printers to employees is a way to assure their reuse as well as boost employee morale.