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Help us learn more about printers with PrintCat

Printers can be frustrating – easy to break and hard to fix. And we see them frequently at Restart Parties. We still remember someone cycling for more than 5 miles with their printer to take it to our very first event.

Today in celebration of Earth Day, we are launching “PrintCat”, a fun opportunity for everyone to get involved in analysing data on over 800 broken printers. The data is from our own Restart Parties, as well as from Repair Cafes and Fixit Clinics around the world, collected together with our partners of the Open Repair Alliance.

We want to understand why printers fail, so that we can tell policymakers how future models can be made easier to repair. Repair reduces waste and lessens the strain on our planet’s resources.

How you can get involved

Head over to PrintCat and join the investigation. You’ll be presented with information about a broken printer and you’ll be able to select the most appropriate fault from a comprehensive list. Once you’ve selected an option, you’ll be presented with information on another printer. The more printer faults you can categorise, the more we learn! PrintCat shows each printer to three people to help confirm the right category. If you want to learn more, you can join a conversation about it here.

Try PrintCat

Why printers, and why now 

Until now, there’s not been any regulation on printers’ repairability, neither in the UK, nor in Europe. Since 2012, printer manufacturers have had a “voluntary agreement” at EU-level, aiming to “reduce the environmental footprint” of printers, and exempting them from formal regulation. Manufacturers are currently discussing a new version of the agreement, and the draft version we’ve seen is extremely weak on repair. If approved, manufacturers would not commit to make spare parts available for printers priced below €350. And we are not aware of any separate agreement for the UK at this stage.

What we hope to achieve

Most printers brought to community repair events are indeed priced below £300 or €350. So we thought it would be worth exploring why they fail, and whether manufacturers’ proposal is fair. The European Commission could reject the voluntary agreement proposed by the industry, and decide to develop regulations on printers. We hope our findings will help make the case for more ambitious measures tackling repairability of printers.

And we also hope many people will enjoy contributing to PrintCat and learning more about why printers fail. PrintCat is the first in a series of three microtasks we’re running as part of our participation in the ACTION accelerator, engaging citizen scientists with open data. Over the next few months, there will be more opportunities to analyse data collected at repair events – so if you enjoy PrintCat, stay in touch for more!

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