Posted in Repair Data Follow our work

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!


We are hugely grateful to to The ACTION (Participatory science toolkit against pollution) project for funding this work and for their support.


EU flag - a ring of yellow stars on a blue background

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 824603. This blog post reflects the author’s views. The European Commission is not liable for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

5 responses

  1. BBC R4 Tuesday 27/4/21 11am
    How We Broke the Future
    Dare to Repair
    Episode 1 of 3

    We love our electronic gadgets, gizmos and appliances. But when it comes to repairing and caring for them, UK citizens are second only to Norway when it comes to producing electronic waste. We have a culture of buying single-use, throwaway, cheaper-the-better, irreparable electronic goods. But the Age of Consumerism is over. If the kettles, toasters, phones and fridges we buy aren’t made to be repairable, and aren’t repaired, we are going to run out of things to buy, stuff to make them from and money to buy them with. Dare to Repair explores how we got to this unsustainable state, explores the fightback, whether it’s through global legislation or individual groups, and empowers listeners to prolong the life of their electronics and mechanical goods by fixing them.

    Episode 1- How We Broke the Future

    Materials scientist Professor Mark Miodownik of UCL looks back to the start of the electronics revolution to find out why our electronic gadgets and household goods are less durable and harder to repair now. As he attempts to fix his digital clock radio, he reveals that the drive for cheaper stuff and advances in design and manufacturing have left us with a culture of throwaway technology and mountains of electronic waste.

    Presenter – Mark Miodownik
    Producer – Fiona Roberts
    Show less
    Release date: 27 April 2021

    28 minutes

  2. coco banks

    Brilliant news !, Im a metalworker and generally DIY nut. Would restart project be able to run more restart parties to focus on fixing tools like angle grinders and battery drills and welding machines.
    Could you run more restart parties for tradesmen if you had a sponsor???

  3. Ruth Webb

    I have two Lexmark printers, one of which can’t print because it’s not compatible with the latest Word program. The other makes clicking noises when you try to print something, and the paper won’t feed through. I’m reluctant to take them to the dump, and would happily donate them to any repair/re-use/dismantle project. Might they be of use to anyone involved in your project?

  4. janetgunter

    Sounds like a great idea, assuming you’ve got all of the health and safety risks assessed and insurance to cover that. (We don’t!)

  5. janetgunter

    We can’t take broken equipment sadly but this page should help

Add a response

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *