Beginning this fall, students’ printing habits are being monitored through a new widget on all lab computers as part of an initiative aimed at reducing paper waste.
A product of Papercut, the paper-tracking software used at Macalester, the widget now appears in the top right hand corner of users’ desktops. It indicates how many sheets a student has left to print out of 500 pages.
This new feature has caused speculation on campus. Many are worried that the 500 page limit means students will be charged once their balance reaches zero, or that they will not be able to print beyond the limit.
Angi Faiks, the Associate Library Director, explained that the widget is simply a tool for students to understand how much paper they are consuming.
“It’s just information for you to go, ‘Oh, I crossed a typical Macalester student threshold,’” said Suzanne Savanick Hansen, the Sustainability Manager.
“We don’t want people to get upset if they think they are going to be charged or if they are getting close to zero and it’s the end of the semester and they don’t realize they can go past zero,” said Brad Belbas, Academic Information Associate in ITS. “Hopefully, a lack of awareness of what this initiative means doesn’t get in the way of the bigger issue. Because it’s really not about the counting.”
Last year, two and a half million sheets of paper were printed for the 2,403 people on campus. The
average number of pages per student for the year was 1,032. By setting a symbolic limit of 500, library staff hope that students will be more aware of what they consume per semester.
“Until now, we were sort of blind,” Savanick Hansen said. “There was no feedback loop for the students to know where they fall or even what that means, or if they had that number, whether that is high or low.”
Faiks stressed that this new effort really is meant as a way to provide data directly to students with the hope that this will push them to alter their behaviors and habits regarding printing.
This widget is part of a larger paper waste reduction initiative co-led by the Library, Information Technological Services (ITS) and the Sustainability Office. A committee organized for the initiative in the fall of 2013 included staff in all three departments, as well as students, Director of Residential Life Coco Du, Director of Campus Activities and Operations Joan Maze, and other representatives. The committee began to look at data, students’ habits and how pedagogy affects printing.
Last year, the committee received a directive from Laurie Hamre, former Vice President of Student Affairs, to “stop talking and just do it,” Faiks. “Then the ‘how to do it’ part, and what does that look like, and what fits Macalester, and what Macalester’s needs are specifically for teaching and learning—that was our job to figure out.”
Questions were raised about whether printing should be capped or charged with the introduction of this new initiative. ITS surveyed peer institutions to study what kinds of relationships other schools have with printing and paper waste.
“We got close to 50 responses regarding how others behave. We found that a lot of people have hard quotas and/or charge. One of the considerations we went through was if you get to zero, do we want your copies to stop?” said Sustainability Project Coordinator, Kurt Miller. “We came up with ‘no’, because that’s not convenient to the learning process. So there were layers and layers of considerations that went into the way it’s set up now.”
The committee also looked at what and why students are printing. “A lot of the burden from having textbooks, is shifting to needing to print PDFs; therefore, [the new burden is] having to print them,” Belbas said. “So there is a very high level of awareness among the people in the committee that there is a demand for students to print things. It’s not that printing equals bad.”
Staff have experienced technical difficulties.
“Papercut is an accounting system, so it wants to equate a dollar amount to a page, and we are not using it that way at all,” Suzanne Durkacs, Client Services Specialist in ITS, said. “So that’s what’s taking us a little time to get that count right.”
“We had to wait for a version upgrade,” Belbas said. “It took staff time and time from the actual vendor of that software to get to the place where it could do what we needed it to do for us at Macalester.”
Despite the work and planning that’s gone into the widget, there have been a few mistakes when it comes to tracking. Double-sided pages are currently counted as two sheets in Papercut. However, Durkacs and Faiks both confirmed that the mistake is being corrected.
“We are investigating the numbers on that and the data and we will either use that for figuring out next semester or we will change the number this semester,” said Faiks. She reiterated the fact that this new widget is one step in the larger effort towards paper waste reduction and the Sustainability Office’s Zero Waste 2020 objective.
In addition to the widget, “there’s the print release station, there is also a cap on the number of pages you can send at any one job, there’s a cap on sending multiple copies to the release station.” The library also recycles different plastics from magazines and journals, and reuses paper with its Onesies program.
“Waste, in the broadest terms, costs the college a lot of money,” Miller said. “We buy boxes and boxes of paper and they cost $37 per box. That’s a student program that doesn’t get money or that’s a student org that gets less.”
“It’s going to be the little things put together that are going to make it happen,” Faiks said of the Zero Waste objective.