Limited printing plan: not worth it
All signs seem to indicate that the printing restrictions on campus are a resounding success. Student printing has been reduced by 40 percent in just the first month of the plan, and as a result, students are wasting less paper. The first part of that sentence is true; the latter is a leap of logic.
It may be true that student printing on campus has seen a reduction since the plan was put into place, but it does not follow that any paper was actually saved, and in reducing the use of printers on campus the University may have managed to achieve the appearance of waste reduction while actually changing nothing.
Last year, Student Technology Services (STS) officials found “piles” of printed pages in student labs that were printed for personal reasons, including invitations, announcements and general co-curricular needs. One might be tempted to think that now, with those piles of pages absent from the trays of printers, less frivolous material is being printed. But those needs don’t go away just because printing is no longer free. Student groups still need flyers, events still need invitations, and students still need to write term papers. The only difference is that now students have an incentive to go off-campus whenever heavy-duty printing is needed, since the University’s printing rates are outrageously high for any sort of bulk printing. Additionally, it would be premature to conclude that waste has been reduced without considering how many students purchased personal printers after hearing about the printing restrictions. STS’ confidence in any environmental savings as a result of the restrictions ought to be taken with a grain of salt.
On the other hand, the problems that the printing ban creates in pursuit of saving paper are obvious and well known. The sluggish pace of the Olin Library computers was infamous when I was a freshman, and the addition of a clunky printing system makes the process even slower.
Should the printer fail to connect to the server, as is often the case, one has to repeat the entire process over again on another computer. Printing on the way to class can easily become a nightmare, and having to portion out an additional 20 minutes every time a paper is due in class, in my case twice a week, is unacceptable. I have yet to connect successfully on my first attempt.
And downsides aren’t justified for the average user. According to STS, more than 90 percent of students will not exceed the $40 limit given to on-campus students—in other words, they aren’t the significant contributors to paper waste on campus. It’s the top 10 percent who are wasting the most, and they are the ones going to FedEx, Kinko’s and OfficeMax. The printing policy creates the illusion of savings while only washing the University’s hands of the matter.
If Wash. U. is committed to reducing paper waste, it should take steps to make paper as superfluous as possible. The University could provide an online system for paper submission, or create virtual bulletin boards. They could encourage online textbooks. They could actually try to reduce the need for students to use paper on campus. Trying to reduce campus printing is not the same goal, and will not result in the same benefits. This printing ban might help Wash. U.’s image, but it will not help the environment.