Reusable paper: Is it coming?

Three weeks ago I was sitting in front of the printer at the Toronto Star waiting for an article to print out and an idea flashed into my mind. I said to a colleague standing beside me: “Wouldn’t it be great if someone developed a printer technology that can erase and reprint over top of previously used paper?”

Simply put, most of us still like using paper. For all the talk over the last decade about the era of distribute-and-print and how it will reduce our use of paper, the opposite has happened. We’re finding more stuff on the Internet and being flooded with more information every day. While in an ideal world we’d all keep this stuff neatly filed in our computers and only view documents on screen as needed, the fact is that we need to see it in front of us on hard copy. We’re using more paper today, not less. My desk at work is surrounded by piles of annual reports and prospectus filings and press releases and stories that I’ve printed out off the Web. Sadly, it’s not uncommon to print out a 50-page document so that I can have quick access to a page or two for a few minutes. Afterwards, it goes into a pile or into a recycling bin. The amount of printer paper the Toronto Star goes through is absolutely obscene.

So it was with great delight that I read the following in a blog entry at Technology Review:

Xerox is currently researching reusable paper, according to CTO Sophie Vandebroek, who discussed the project yesterday at the Emerging Technologies Conference. Printouts made on the paper would fade in a specified period of time, allowing the paper to be reused. Vandebroek compares it to lenses that take on a darker tint in the sun and then fade once they’re removed from sunlight. The technology is still very much in the research phase, but she ultimately expects the paper to be especially useful in the corporate world, where she says that 40 percent of printed documents are discarded a short time after they are printed.

This, to me, would be a wonderful thing. Sure, you’d likely pay a premium for the paper, no different than if you paid more for a re-writable CD-ROM or DVD. But it makes huge sense. My only criticism of Xerox’s approach is that it shouldn’t be the printouts that fade, it should be the printer technology that literally erases the older toner before printing something new. It could be some sort of heat-activated processes, meaning you wouldn’t be limited to a certain type of paper. Rather, an organization could invest in certain types of printers. Perhaps Xerox is working on this as well.

One thought on “Reusable paper: Is it coming?”

  1. Ricoh already developed a reusable paper system over 5 years ago that used a plastic paper that could have the toner scraped off it when you were done with it. It was not brought to market, as far as I know. I suspect that the closed cycle was not profitable enough.

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