By: Amanda Froelich,
Imagine the number of handouts you randomly receive on the street, as well as the load of printed paper you may constantly be required to print for your own office. While having a printed handout with need-to-know information is convenient, the implications from using large amounts of paper – and ink – are not as agreeable.
And because the usage of paper is the aspect of printing which receives so much attention, little to no energy has been given to consider just how wasteful ink usage can be. That was, until middle-school student, Suvir Mirchandi, felt inspired to investigate more into this topic.
It all began when the then-sixth grader, Mirchandi, wanted to look into ways to cut waste and save money for his school in the Pittsburgh area. He chose to study this for his science fair project.
Applying computer science to promote environmental sustainability, the ambitious student decided to figure out if there was a better way to minimize the large amount of ink used for printing, ink that has been reported to be more expensive by volume than French perfume. “Ink is two times more expensive than French perfume by volume,” Suvir said. And he’s right: As shared by CNN, Chanel No. 5 perfume costs $38 per ounce, while the equivalent amount of Hewlett-Packard printer ink can cost up to $75.
So began his project to cut down on the costly liquid. You’ll be surprised by his findings! Mirchandi began by collecting random samples of teachers’ handouts and concentrated on the most widely used letters: e, t, a, o, and r. He then charted how often each character was used in four different typefaces: Garamond, Times New Roman, Century Gothic, and Comic Sans. Then he measured how much ink was used for each letter, using a commercial tool called APFill® Ink Coverage Software.
His investigation then led him to enlarge the letters, then print them and cut them out on card stock paper to weigh his findings. Three trials were done for each letter, the ink usage graphed for each font.
By the end, Suvir analyzed that by using Garamond with its thinner strokes, his school district could reduce its ink consumption by 24%, and in turn save as much as $21,000 annually.
Encouraged by his teacher, Suvir looked to publish his findings on the Journal for Emerging Investigators (JEI). This publication was founded by a group of Harvard grad students in 2011 and provides a forum for the work of middle and high school students.
Well received by the JEI board, Suvir then thought, “How much potential savings is really out there?” This inspired him to apply his project to a larger scale: the United States government.
Because the average expenditure for the government’s printing needs is $1.8 billion, Suvir felt any change implemented to offset such costs could be beneficial.
Doing basic math, Suvir used the General Services Administration’s estimated annual cost of ink – $467 million – and concluded that nearly 30% – or $136 million per year – could be saved by only switching to Garamond ink. An additional $234 million could be saved if state governments also joined in with the switch, he reported.
While Gary Somersat, media and public relations manager at the Government Printing Office, described Suvir’s work as “remarkable”, he was non-committal on whether the GPO would introduce changes to typeface, saying the GPO’s efforts to become more environmentally sustainable were focused on shifting content to the web.
According to Somersat, printed resources have declined dramatically since 1994; and on top of that, the Congressional Register is printed on recycled paper, which GPO has been doing for five or six years.
But regardless if the government makes it mandatory to use Garamond type-face instead of traditional Times New Roman, this is positive news for the rest of the world on how to save money and benefit the environment if printing handouts.
Offices and home businesses not regulated by the government can make this switch and save the estimated 24% of ink costs. This will in the long run benefit the environment and save a good chunk of money for the individual consumer.
Suvir is optimistic that changes will still be implemented someday from his findings, however: “I definitely would love to see some actual changes, and I’d be happy to go as far as possible to make that change possible.”
Suvir Micrchandani is just one of the inspirational young people persisting to create a better tomorrow with the incredible resources available today.