PaperLab: Turn Scrap Paper into Brand New Paper in Your Office

A Japanese electronics company developed a system that allows offices to produce their own paper in an eco-friendly way, using shredded documents. The machine, PaperLab,  uses an innovative dry process to make new sheets from scrap paper, using less water than traditional paper recycling does.

Author Terri Kafyeke, 12.10.15

A Japanese electronics company developed a system that allows offices to produce their own paper in an eco-friendly way, using shredded documents. The machine, PaperLab,  uses an innovative dry process to make new sheets from scrap paper, using less water than traditional paper recycling does. In addition, the fact that the recycling process takes place directly in the office reduces emissions from transportation.

Throwing used paper in a recycling bin has become an ingrained habit for most of us, and it is an easy way to reduce our ecological footprint. According to the German Federal Environmental Agency, producing one kilogram of recycled paper requires 15 litres of water and 2kWh of energy, as opposed to 50 litres of water and 5kWh of energy for a kilogram of non-recycled paper. Recycling paper is clearly the best of the two options, but there is still room for improvement in terms of resource use. Besides, by the time a load of scrap paper gets collected, recycled, sold and delivered back to an office as new sheets, it has generated emissions from transportation.

Last week, Seiko Epson Corporation unveiled their latest invention: the PaperLab office papermaking system. The Japanese manufacturer boldly claims that it is “the world’s first compact office papermaking system capable of producing new paper from securely shredded waste paper without the use of water”. The machine, which is 2.6 metres tall and 1.8 metres wide, could be a game changer in many big offices. It produces 14 sheets per minute. The prototype is currently on display at the Eco-Products 2015 exhibition in Tokyo, and it will be commercialised in 2016.

PaperLab creates new paper using a dry process called ‘Dry Fibre Technology’. When the user enters waste paper in the machine, it is broken down into cotton-like fibers. Any information printed onto the paper is permanently erased. During the second step, chemical binders are added to the fibres. The nature of these binders will depend on the desired type of paper. In the third and final step, pressure is applied to the fibre-binder substance to create new sheets of paper, in the format selected by the user.

According to Epson, the machine only needs a minimal amount of water “to maintain a certain level of humidity inside the system.” The current PaperLab prototype can recycle copy paper of A3 and A4 formats, and produce fresh sheets of the same formats in various thicknesses (office paper, business card paper, etc.). The user can make white sheets or color paper, and there is even the option to make scented or flame-resistant paper.

The machine fulfills two needs that most companies have: to recycle paper, and to securely dispose of confidential documents. In addition to being less energy and water-intensive than the ordinary recycling process, having an in-house paper-making centre removes the need to transport scrap paper to a recycling facility and fresh paper back to the office. This also leads to a reduction in emissions.

Still, some important questions should be clarified before declaring PaperLab the most environmentally-friendly paper recycling system. For instance, it would be interesting to know more about the nature and environmental impact of the binders used in the dry process. Nonetheless, it seems that in-house paper recycling could be a sensible solution for big companies.

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