PaperCut program reduces public print waste by 21 percent

Three months since the College first implemented the PaperCut system to regulate printing, numbers show that printer usage has fallen. Compared to this time last year, 21 percent fewer pages have been printed from the College’s public printers, said Stephanie Boyd, director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives. A response to rising paper waste, PaperCut gives students $50 per semester to spend on printing and requires them to pay for any printing exceeding that amount. Seniors are given a slightly higher allowance, at $75 per semester, to account for higher amounts of writing intensive work.
At this time last year, several students had each already used thousands of sheets of papers, with the highest page count for an individual at 3995 pages. This year, the highest number of pages printed by a single student stands at 1242 pages. Ninety percent of students have printed fewer than 378 pages, with a median usage of approximately 100 pages. Thirty-six students have added additional money to their PaperCut accounts this term. Williamstown residents who previously used the College’s printers have cut back on how much they do so, according to Office of Information Technology (OIT) Administrator David Parks.
Though these statistics indicate a successful reduction of paper waste, PaperCut quotas have provoked a variety of reactions across campus.
“I remember previous years when there were ridiculous amounts of discarded printing left over in the libraries,” Quaneece Calhoun ’11 said. She noted that the printing quota has been sufficient to print class materials. “I’ve printed a ton of articles 10 pages and higher as well as 30 pages of single-sided colored printing, and I still have enough money to survive until the end of the semester,” Calhoun said.
One objection raised by students and faculty at the outset of the program was that the system might unequally affect different disciplines. Professor Chris Waters, history professor and chair of the department, also noted that PaperCut imposes limitations on seniors writing honors theses, who must eventually print four copies of 100-plus page theses.
These students also often confront additional printing when using the interlibrary loan system for research, whose short-term loan deadlines require that students must print articles and chapters in order to have continued access to those sources. “Students should not be penalized for choosing to write honors theses,” Waters said.
Boyd countered this argument, citing initial data that indicate that thus far into the year, theses students have, on average, used less paper than students who aren’t writing theses.
Students have also voiced concerns that certain classes and majors require much more printing than others. “There needs to be more allowances for certain classes or majors, because some teachers don’t print out the material,” Liz Jimenez ’12 said.
Some students also feel that they cannot absorb information as well when reading online instead of in print. “I like handling and interacting with my books,” Ruthie Ezra ’10 said. “I engage my papers in dialogue by writing on them, leaving traces of my reactions that I can readily revisit in subsequent readings of the material.” She worried that this “object-oriented approach” to learning could result in financial penalties under the new system.
Boyd believes that PaperCut has successfully eliminated “a horrendous waste pile” of paper, but also is working to modify the program to address student concerns, she said. “I would be concerned that people have such a negative reaction that they lose empathy for the environment, but there is also a lesson that even in the good things we do, there can be a cost,” Boyd said.
Some students have been concerned that PaperCut keeps a record of each document printed. However, only Parks and the student who printed the document can access this information about document history. “We [decided to use] that feature … for the reasons of troubleshooting and monitoring department accounts,” Parks said. If a document does not print correctly, a student has a record that he tried to print it and can be reimbursed. Additionally, department heads can monitor department accounts and catch any abnormally high printing activity that might indicate abuse of those accounts.
Economics classes have used the data for projects but were only privy to students’ majors, class years and number of pages printed. They were not given details about specific types of documents, according to Parks and Boyd.