Reinventing paper

The weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

Now does that sound silly or what? As if paper was not always undergoing reinvention, an Israeli technology company is claiming to have reinvented it. The premise is that paper needs to be reinvented, so that it better supports the circular economy. Having got over our initial befuddlement and confusion, we took a closer look. We found puff, but puff with purpose and a point. Sort of.

In fact the Israeli company’s story isn’t about reinventing paper, but rather encouraging people to use it more effectively. And of course the story’s about getting people to buy the Israeli company’s product. The REEP process is not a reinvention, but it is still quite clever. The REEP process hides or removes toner from paper, so that it can be reused. The process makes the surface of office paper rewritable and involves a special paper, a special laser that can erase the toner and a scanning device. This digitises documents so that they can then be saved in a secure cloud.

This isn’t really a reinvention of paper, but rather a new recipe for office paper that makes it deinkable using just a laser. However the REEP machine only works with toner and is intended for use in offices. This is not an industrial process, but rather a means of reusing office paper up to ten to twenty times. According to the inventor, Barak Yekutiely “to be resource efficient, we don’t need to reduce office printing – we want to print in a circular manner with exponentially less paper”. 

Is this as sensible as recycling paper in an industrial process? As with most things environmental, there are serious questions relating to the environmental impact of the scanning/toner removal device, which is about the size of a normal multifunction printer. There are also questions relating to the production of this special paper, three reams of which the developers expect to serve 35 employees daily. There will also be an energy overhead, which may not be so very low. And then there is the cost and energy associated with the secure cloud storage, data backup and management, and data access.

There is no doubt that new ideas for making paper usage more efficient are welcome. If they improve the environmental impact of print processes even better. But we should not lose sight of the fact that paper has for many years mades a substantial contribution to the circular economy. Printing is already highly sustainable because of process automation and sophisticated materials science, and the fact that much of it relies on a renewable resource. 

– Laurel Brunner

The Verdigris project is an industry initiative intended to raise awareness of print’s positive environmental impact. It provides a weekly commentary to help printing companies keep up to date with environmental standards, and how environmentally friendly business management can help improve their bottom lines. Verdigris is supported by the following companies: Agfa GraphicsEFIEpson, FespaHPKodakKornit, RicohSpindrift, Splash PRUnity Publishing and Xeikon.

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