Paperlab Update

medium_laurel2015.jpgThe weekly Verdigris blog by Laurel Brunner

At drupa we were privileged to interview Seiko Epson’s Minoru Usui, CEO and president of the company since 2008. Mr Usui outlined his vision for Epson’s amazing PaperLab technology. PaperLab is an integrated system for producing new paper from waste paper without using water. PaperLab shreds office paper and recombines the cellulose using a binder to create a material that can be flattened and calendared into new papers. The new papers can be coloured and can include Optical Brightening Agents.

PaperLab is fundamental to Epson’s goal of cutting energy usage and improving paper recycling. The company wants the office sector to convert from toner based printing devices to inkjet machines. Epson considers inkjet to be more sustainable because of its lower energy requirement in offices. Making ones own paper also reduces the need to buy in office paper and dispose of it, and the associated transport emissions. Mr Usui wants “inkjet prints to be aligned with PaperLab in these markets in the future”.

The received wisdom within the paper industry is that toner prints are easier to deink and recycle than their inkjet equivalents, but Mr Usui does not agree. The PaperLab technology can cope with any type of print, but the PaperLab deinking process actually works better with inkjet printed raw materials than with toner prints. PaperLab’s special binder is based on a glue-like polymer which binds shredded fibres to create new paper from old in a circular process. The mix of input paper is unpredictable, so fibres can be recycled beyond the usual six or seven times, Mr Usui says. The waste PaperLab produces is “negligible”. In the future the technology will accept other types of fibre based substrates as well as office papers.

Epson has a deep commitment to improving the environmental impact of its products, and to helping its customers to improve their environmental sustainability. Mr Usui says that “in order to achieve this dream we must develop PaperLab to create a sustainable world” . PaperLab reduces the energy required to deink and recycle to paper in a process designed to be kind to the environment. Mr Usui’s strategy is to start deploying PaperLab in office environments, particularly places that have to dispose of high amounts of confidential documents. Such documents can be recycled with PaperLab, cutting the risk of documents falling into the wrong hands because they never leave the building. There are also huge savings in transport and processing emissions associated with secure disposal.

PaperLab goes into beta testing in Japan later this year and will be installed in other geographies in 2017, via Epson’s sales network. The company is also looking into different business models especially for emerging markets which are sensitive to printing costs. Inkjet technology is appropriate in these geographies because it reduces energy use and has cheap print costs. In three years time PaperLab is expected to make a ¥10 billion contribution to Seiko Epson’s revenues, rising to ¥50 billion in 10 years time. Mr Usui told us that “to be truly innovative you have to come up with things people haven’t thought about before”. PaperLab is just that.

– 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 Graphics, Digital Dots, EFI, Fespa, Heidelberg, HP, Kodak, Ricoh, Splash PR, Unity Publishing and Xeikon.

Please also include the Verdigris logo and a link to this website. If you don't already have our logos, you can get them by downloading the "Publishers Bundle" from our Archive page. And don’t forget terms of the Creative Commons license at the footer of the site. Enjoy!