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Woodland Friends

Recreating British Woodland

Unsustainable Economics

It is no coincidence that the significant levels of damage humans are now inflicting on the planet are occurring at a time of accelerated consumerism. It is our instatiable demand for 'stuff' that has led to deforestation, increased energy use and higher levels of pollution as we move things around the globe. Whilst people can certainly be blamed for producing the demand that results in so much environmental damage, our economic system itself is also deep-rooted in practices which go against principals of conservation.

An ink-jet printer is a good example of where the problems lie at the heart of our economics. We have an HP OfficeJet Pro 6830 inkjet printer which is no more than about 3 years old. As many people will know, printer manufacturers often make the bulk of their profits on selling ink cartridges rather than on the machines themselves. This was certainly a trend amongst manufacturers at the time the 6830 was bought, although it wasn't at the lowest end of the pricing scale. It was purchased for about £200.

We have always used genuine HP print cartridges in the printer despite their high pricing compared to compatible cartridges. Primarily we want a printer to be reliable and it's perhaps a fair assumption that using the manufacturer's cartridges should give better reliability than cheaper alternatives. Some printer manufacturers actually lock the user into only using their own cartridges through the use of electronic security mechanisms within the cartridge.

The cost per printed page is the second most important consideration after reliability. You can only really work out the cost per page once your printer has reached the end of its life. You can then add up the cost of the printer, the cost of its ink and divide that by the number of pages you've printed during its lifespan. Sadly, after just 3 years' use, we might now be able to make that calculation because the 6830 looks like it's developed a non-repairable fault.

Inkjet printers suffer from a common problem of the ink drying out within the print-head. For the HP 6830, the print-head is an integral part of the printer itself. Ink flows from the cartridges into ink wells within the print-head housing and then down small capilliary tubes to the print-head jets. If a printer isn't used that often, it's likely that ink will start to dry out within some part of this assembly.

The automatic print-head cleaning process that most ink-jet printers employ will try to run fresh ink through the print-head and down into a sump inside the printer in order to get everything flowing again. There are some manual cleaning processes you can also do, some of which entail removing the print-head assembly from the machine. We've tried all these techniques and the cyan colour still won't run. We have now resorted to shading-in bodies of water on printed Ordnance Survey maps with a blue colouring pencil and drawing-in the streams with a pen!

It looks like this 3-year old printer is in need of a new print-head. The process of removing the print-head isn't that difficult and given the number of complaints on the internet about print-head faults on this model, you would have thought HP would sell replacement parts. Sadly, they don't; they sell lots of other things for this printer but not replacement print-heads. The only print-heads that seem to be available are refurbished ones or clones, most of which come from various sellers in China. Since none of these are approved by HP, however, there's no assurance that they will work nor be reliable.

The options available to us - and many others with the same problem - are: try fitting one of the print-heads from China; continue with the colouring pencil approach; or buy a new printer. What HP and other printer manufacturers want us to do, of course, is buy new machines. This is an economic model that pervades the whole of modern commerce. Things are not built to last; it's an inherent part of their design that they will fail within a fairly short span of time, thus forcing us to dispose of them and buy new replacements.

In complete contrast to the HP printer, at home I have a set of component Hi-Fi separates. Some have failed and needed to be replaced but I'm only on my second set of any one component and one - a Sansui tuner - is still going strong after 35 years. If Sansui could build reliable electronics 4 decades ago why can't HP do so now? The answer is simple: they can but they just don't want to.

Companies strive for increasing profits and countries strive to increase their GDP. The world is never going to be able to address its over-consumption of resources unless it changes this unsustainable economic system.

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