Originally published Dec. 1, 2013

Co-written with editorial board

On the Grand Valley State University campuses, about 33 percent of the paper that’s printed is wasted, according to the front page article by Ryan Jarvi. And at a school where individuals are not required to pay for their own paper, this figure is troublesome.

First, let us acknowledge one of the special privileges that GVSU offers: “free” printing (which, in all reality, isn’t necessarily “free.” All roads lead to tuition, right?). But this is definitely a selling point of GVSU that its students have taken advantage of.

Some schools, like the University of Michigan, have a cap on the number of “free” prints per student per semester. At U of M, the 400 pages (or 200 double-sided) given to each student is probably a tedious bar for English and writing majors, but it keeps the university from having to pay for a couple hundred pages of textbooks and journal articles (which some immediately discard after realizing they’ve printed the wrong thing). Subsequent pages cost 6 cents each, which is a price that likely makes U of M students think a little harder about what is and isn’t necessary to print.

GVSU students have fewer barriers to printing pounds and pounds of half-filled documents, though. And this can be a plus or a minus, depending on the student. Certainly the unlimited printing is a nice incentive for writing majors to stay at GVSU. They can run copy after copy of their 200-page chapter books to distribute to family and friends—and they wouldn’t suffer any heavy fee. Other students can afford to accidentally print—and then scrap—a few poorly chosen textbooks without feeling personal consequences.

Meanwhile, eco-friendly and financially smart students take care to print only what they need. And a portion of their tuition, no matter how insignificant, is funding the irresponsible waste of paper by their peers.

Thus, it is a great goal for GVSU to monitor the waste closely, hold departments and students accountable, and look for solutions. Now, developing a printing scheme like U of M would likely not go over well with students, but it may be the only way to truly cut back on waste.

While sending documents to print through the cloud makes students think twice, if they’re not paying for it, then of course they will probably still print since they took the time to send it through to the printer. On the other hand, if students had a $50 printing credit for the semester, they would likely not print something that they could read on the computer, because they could save that credit for things that really needed printing.

Forcing students not to print roommate birthday cards, sheet music and posters isn’t the only way to reduce waste, though. Some students print draft after draft of 20-page theses to proof and submit for writing-intense courses. This habit won’t change until professors engage in the movement, too.

While many GVSU faculty are encouraged to go “paper free” and allow students to turn in assignments on Blackboard or via email, there are still a lot of classes where hard copies are required. If the university really wants to cut back on waste, they need to get the whole campus on board, not just students.

So here’s the plan: pressure students to think twice, encourage faculty to ease up, and save a few clock towers worth of paper.

Original publication: http://www.lanthorn.com/article/2013/12/1329-oped-editorial