Epson has developed what it says is the first ever in-office paper recycling machine. You feed used documents into one end of the PaperLab, and out the other comes clean, white, printable sheets. It's speedy too, churning out 14 A4 sheets every minute (that's 6,720 sheets in an eight-hour work day), and can even produce different varieties of paper, including A3 sheets, thicker paper for business cards, colored stock, and "scented paper." And because the recycling process involves breaking down waste sheets into paper fibers, Epson says it's a secure way of destroying confidential documents.
The PaperLab uses a dry process to recycle documents
In its official press release, Epson doesn't give away too much detail about what goes on inside the PaperLab, but says the machine is the first to utilize a dry process to recycle and produce paper. (A small amount of water is needed "to maintain a certain level of humidity inside the system," but it doesn't seem to be as liquid a method as traditional pulping.) The company says there are three main steps to the procedure: fiberizing, which transforms the waste paper into "long, thin cottony fibers"; binding, where substances are added to change the paper's properties, like color or "flame resistance"; and forming, where the fiber is pressed into new sheets of paper.
A commenter on ArsTechnica notes that an Epson patent from 2013 on in-office paper recycling might reveal a little more about this process. The patent describes how waste paper is crushed using a "defibrating unit," with the ink then removed by spinning the crushed matter through an air cyclone. It's difficult to precisely imagine what this would look like, but from the patent's description, it sounds like a conical washing machine cylinder with blades at the entrance that shreds paper coming in and then uses centrifugal force to separate out the deconstructed elements. (I can honestly say I've never been more excited by the idea of paper recycling in my life.)
There are still a lot of questions: namely, how much does the PaperLab cost?
There's still a lot of detail missing from Epson's description (what happens to all the waste ink, for example; does it need any other reagents to work; how well does it work, etc), but it's certainly an attractive idea. It cuts down on waste, it's good for the environment, and — depending on the running costs — it might be a money-saver, too. Epson says it plans to put the PaperLab into commercial production in 2016, and will be showing off a prototype at next week's Eco-Products environmental exhibition in Tokyo. We just hope there's some sort of transparent version being built to show off exactly what's going on inside.