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A veritable communication revolution at the outset, the fax machine is long past its heyday. Competition from email has rendered this eighties throwback almost redundant, but for some offices it is still an essential and trusty component. Those with copying and printing facilities certainly reduce the need for several machines and their environmental credentials can be boosted by using recycled paper and switching off when not in use.

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Choice of paper

Plain paper fax machines use ordinary sheets of A4 paper, while thermal fax machines use rolls of thermal paper. At first glance, plain paper machines seem the better option, but two factors are worth thinking about: firstly, a plain paper machine also requires a replaceable ink or toner cartridge or drum, and second, a thermal fax machine cuts messages to length and thus saves on paper and energy.

Plain paper made from 100 per cent post-consumer waste is widely available. Look for the Nordic Swan symbol, a Scandinavian labelling scheme which requires the production process to have the minimum possible environmental impact. Contrary to popular opinion, thermal paper is recyclable, although it is considered ‘low-grade’ waste and there are no known sources of recycled thermal paper.

One way to reduce paper is to send and receive faxes through a computer. The drawbacks of this option are that computers cannot receive faxes when they are switched off or working offline, and only material already stored in the computer can be faxed, meaning that a separate scanner may be required. For offices that already have this capability, however, it may be the ideal solution.


When you buy a new fax machine, make sure you find out how many parts are consumable and whether or not they can be recycled.

A few years ago, some companies began producing ink and toner cartridges with ‘anti-recycling devices’. These usually consisted of an electronic chip which prevented the cartridge from being refilled, forcing the owner to buy a brand new one (and ensuring the company retained the potential recycler’s custom). This alarming practice became the subject of much debate, and was widely criticised by the remanufacturing industry. All anti-recycling devices have since been banned in the EU. Just like printers, using remanufactured cartridges for your fax machine will save you money and help the environment.

To find the best distributors of recycled cartridges simply contact The United Kingdom Cartridge Recyclers Association (UKCRA). This independent body encourages producers of remanufactured cartridges to maintain high standards and offer high quality products. Their website ( has detailed profiles on the companies that provide remanufactured cartridges plus information on developments in the recycling industry.

Minimising paper use

Switching off the automatic header page function is an instant paper saver. Every so often a fax machine gives out a transmission report; try to use scrap paper for these. Big logos may look good and instantly attract attention as they come shuffling out of the machine, but they also consume much more paper than a cleverly designed smaller one. It could make all the difference between getting all your information on one page instead of two.

Ethical-minded companies

One fax machine manufacturer, Brother UK, has been awarded international environmental management standard, ISO 14001:2004. To achieve this status, Brother’s environmental performance was assessed according to various criteria, including distribution and transport, carbon dioxide emissions, natural resources, packaging, waste and impact on the local environment.

Other manufacturers consistently come up with disappointing results in our league tables. The Samsung Group has yet to remedy their involvement with armaments or improve their track record concerning human rights.

Ethical Fax Machines Rankings Detailed Table

Buy our detailed Ethical Research Reports. See the findings behind companies’ ethical ratings, as featured in The Good Shopping Guide. Several different product sectors available covering hundreds of consumer brands.

We have created ethical rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Brother, Ricoh, Olivetti, Philips, Sagemcom, Panasonic, Canon, Samsung

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