One of the most environmentally impacting areas of technology is, of course, printing. The manufacture of ink and toner requires a lot of raw energy, added to which there's the paper. So we decided to ask leading printer manufacturer Brother about its efforts to improve its environmental influence. Louise Unsworth is the product manager for the company's consumables in the UK and told us about the company's cartridge recycling facilities.

The company has a recycling plant in Ruabon, Wrexham to handle the recycling of consumables, which come from all over Europe - 13 countries to be exact. Each country gathers up their own cartridges before they are shipped en masse to the UK. The factory was started with £600,000 of initial investment there years ago and is a 2,000 square metre factory to service the recovery of materials from consumables at the end of their serviceable life. The plant has 240 staff, expected to increase in the near future by a further 180 staff.

Louise says Brother has also launched a UK green website . The site also has a closed area for dealers and resellers where they can receive an incentive to recycle old cartridges of up to £2 per item. In the UK, Brother recycles cartridges through a freepost label scheme. She also says that last year just over 400,000 cartridges were re-worked and refreshed ready for re-sale. The facility also has some impressive future targets, with a goal of 800,000 processed cartridges in 2007 and 1.2 million in 2008.

Market trends

The company also gave us some information regarding trends in the printer market. Despite the market during the first quarter of the year being down by 15 per cent, the colour laser market was up by 14 per cent, reflecting the growth in availability of budget colour lasers. That contrasts with the inkjet market which dropped 20 per cent in units and 32 per cent in value. Huge growth was however seen in the all-in-one market, which was up 30 per cent in terms of unit sales and five per cent in terms of value. Apparently this is due to increased "consumer confidence" in the colour laser market. "That's the reason we're now seeing some transition," said a Brother spokesperson.

The growth in the colour laser market is the big headline news with an average selling price of nearly £500, though our spokesperson was keen to point out cheap colour lasers now being sold through PC World for £139.

"A lot of [the growth] is down to price," said our spokesperson. "Two years ago the average selling price was £1300."