The computer is not that much of a sinner when it comes to ecological issues: it consumes very little power, does not cause noise pollution and will not spew out toxic fluorocarbons each time it is switched on.

The same cannot be said of the computer's partner, however. The printer - whether it's laser or bubblejet - is a serious threat to the environment, causing hundreds of tons of noxious plastic waste to be dumped each year throughout Europe.

The problem lies in the plastic cartridge, which, when empty, is usually thrown away with the rest of the rubbish accumulated at home or in the office. In the US, redundant cartridges account for nearly 15 landfills a year. In the UK, 6 million items of electronics waste (a quarter of them printer cartridges) find their way into fills every year.

The Government has indicated that it wants the electronics industry to set up collection and recycling schemes - its wording emphasises voluntary action, but there is an implied threat of legislation if enough is not done. Canon, one of the world's largest printer manufacturers, has implemented a scheme worldwide whereby any cartridge that is empty can be placed in a self-addressed pre-paid envelope and sent off to the company, where it is registered and then sent to China for recycling.

But Friends of the Earth does not think enough is being done. Benedict Southworth, a waste campaigner for FOE, is calling on manufacturers to introduce designs that tackle the waste problem from stage one. "Printer waste is a very big problem," he says. "We're talking about millions and millions of pounds' worth of equipment being landfilled every year without any real thought as to how that equipment could be recycled."

Only Kyocera, a printer company, is tackling the problem from the design end. Rather than using cartridges, it fits a silicon drum which, it says, should last as long as the printer itself. Instead of throwing cartridges away, the drum is simply refilled.

Graham Marson, chairman of the Independent Council for Electronic Equipment Recycling (ICER), says that while suppliers have arrangements to recycle business equipment, "the problem is getting at the home users". Printer makers are so busy pushing their products that they have little time to spend encouraging buyers to recycle them.