Photocopying Money: printing expenditure in schools

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One of the main areas where schools have traditionally bled money has been the humble photocopying room.

Walk into any area dedicated to printing and photocopying and you’re likely to find a machine hard at work, often unattended, printing reams of paper while even more paper sits in the tray seemingly forgotten. Nearby recycle bins are filled with the ones that didn’t make it – the rejects – maybe due to a typo or maybe a formatting error. Stacks of fresh reams sit idly on standby for the unhappy sap that gets stuck mid-print having to refill the machine. And if the toner’s run out? Cue office-wide meltdown and the sending out of a search party for the one person authorised to change it.

The above may be a little bit of an exaggeration but often not by much. The organised chaos of the photocopying room is built for wastage.

Trying to get a handle on how much paper is used on average is a difficult task for most schools. Some estimates in the UK say that 1,000 sheets of paper per student per year is normal, with secondary schools burning through over one million sheets.

Ray Fleming, Education Marketing Manager for Microsoft, says schools often spend more on printing than they do on IT.

“An average school will use 1m sheets of paper a year and spend £60,000 (AUD $120k) on photocopying but only £56,000 (AUD $110k) on IT.”

Reducing the costs of printing and copying presents a real challenge for most schools who find they not only have to seek out alternatives to their current processes but they also have to change people’s habits. The problem is universal, and novel solutions have been introduced to varying success.

One Israeli company that supplies printers and photocopiers for schools introduced an online social network where students could share photocopied handouts and readings online, earning credits when uploading content for others to use.

A US teen also made the news in early 2014 for releasing a study where he estimated the government could save $234 million in printing costs by simply changing their font type.

One change that has made a difference for many schools has been the procurement of contracts with printer and photocopier suppliers, outsourcing the servicing and ordering of their products.

Often, the cost of maintaining old equipment is quite high. Old machines can be inefficient, using more toner than necessary, more power than new models and costing an arm and a leg to have someone repair at regular intervals. Contract services give schools brand new machines that cost less to run while also providing them with a toll-free number they can call for support if the machine breaks down. Many companies also supply toner and even paper at a lower cost for those on a contract.

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In Australia, an agreement between the NSW Department of Education and Communities (DEC) and Fuji Xerox proved popular, with many schools signing up for the contracted service. It is estimated, if 85% of schools in NSW took up the services, the total savings would be close to $127 million. The deal also comes with a buy-back scheme for existing printers, allowing schools to recoup some of their previous expenditure.

Looking outside of the school for printing solutions has helped keep many budgets in check. Centralised management of printing helped save one Florida school $500,000, even with an on-site representative to help iron out any issues.

Other schools in the UK have moved towards digitising their print systems, introducing new ways of managing a fleet of printers and copiers centrally. These technologies have not only help schools move closer to becoming paperless but they have also helped save money by tracking printing costs across the whole network in real time.

The photocopying room may play a large role in school expenses but it can also be an easy place to start when looking for a solution. There are many ways to cut costs and, by auditing your current systems, you can start to identify where to begin in doing so.

Below is a list of general printing tips, which act as a good base from which to work because chances are, if you don’t print money, you’re probably spending it.

Printing Tips 

  • Put in place a goal for your school in reducing paper use. Back this up with a new policy promoting less printing and more electronic media.
  • Make double-sided printing and copying the default setting on all machines throughout the school.
  • Rescue non-sensitive documents sitting in the print recycle bin that have only been printed on one side. Use these as notepaper or for draft printing.
  • Educate the staff, as well as the students, about the economic and environmental costs of using paper. Reinforce ways to conserve.
  • Choose paper products that contain recycled content, not only office and printing paper but also for paper towels and napkins.
  • Put in place a central purchasing system to ensure policies are being enacted, and to help track usage and optimise ordering.

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