Researchers at Cambridge University use a laser to zap used office paper clean.
The future may be digital, but photocopying and printing are still facts of office life. However much we source recycled paper, use both sides of the sheet and avoid printing off every document, companies still get through truckloads of A4 paper every year.
One technique to ensure we get the most out of every sheet – before it hits the shredder – could be to erase the printed word. A group of researchers at Cambridge University recently proved the concept. They used a laser with just enough energy to vaporise the plastic polymer in toner, when applied in short pulses, without damaging the paper. The ‘unprinted’ paper can be reused up to five times. The team is now looking to develop a prototype printer, suitable for office use.
The question is, would such a product sell? Cost is the first barrier. The researchers concede that buying recycled paper would remain a more costeffective solution for most businesses, until economies of scale are reached. But team leader David Leal-Ayala points out that there are significant savings – and environmental benefits – in avoiding all the electricity, water and chemicals that go into recycling.
Richard Owers, Director of the print solutions provider Pureprint Group, is interested in principle, although he cautions that “any new initiative has to take in all resources involved. Paper isn’t the only one”. But, he concludes, “anything that improves resource efficiency is to be welcomed”. - Sara Ver Bruggen