Rethinking recycling

Imagine if you never had to buy paper again

Rethinking recycling

In 2015 a team of scientific researchers made an interesting discovery. Using improved methods of tree density detection, they calculated that previous estimates of tree numbers on earth were wildly inaccurate. Instead of 400 billion trees, or 50 trees for every human being, they calculated that the planet is actually home to over three trillion trees, or 422 per human head.

What’s striking is that the Yale researchers’ revised number still leaves the planet with 46 per cent fewer trees than it had before human beings began the process of deforestation, around 10,000 years ago. Despite reforestation efforts, there are now fewer trees on earth than at any time in human history.

How do we begin to reverse a decline that began in the Ice Age? Small steps help. As individuals and as businesses, we are used to making incremental changes in our adoption of sustainability policies. At home, we start separating rubbish into different bins, or maybe even buy a hybrid. At work we travel less and recycle more.

These are all important policies, but the change in behaviour – the change in thinking – is small. According to the Yale researchers, we face a net loss of around 10 billion trees per annum. How do we think bigger?

We need a step change in thinking. Currently, businesses recycle paper through an extensive process that requires transporting waste paper from the office to a papermaking (recycling) facility. This is expensive and laborious, not to mention a drain on energy and fuel.

Unsurprisingly, most businesses don’t do it. In fact, recent figures from the European Paper Recycling Council show that the pace of paper recycling is slowing down across Europe - only growing by 0.1% in 2015.

In-house recycling

One alternative is to bring the recycling process in-house. Technology such as Epson’s PaperLab represents a much more fundamental transition in the way we think about paper waste – shifting away from small, individual actions towards transformative, organisational change.

PaperLab is the world’s first in-office paper recycler, which turns waste paper into new paper using a dry process called Dry Fibre Technology. Used paper is fed into PaperLab, then broken down into long, thin fibres by a waterless defibration unit. The fibres are then mixed with a binder for strength and colour, before being pressed into brand new sheets of paper. The first piece of new paper is produced in as little as three minutes. That ladders up to 12 A4 sheets per minute, 720 sheets per hour, or 5,760 sheets per 8-hour working day.

PaperLab is an example of closed loop recycling, where little to nothing is wasted. If more organisations adopt similar closed loop recycling methods, reforestation can continue to progress and succeed at a much faster rate.

An in-house paper recycler like PaperLab also helps organisations cut their CO2 emissions, as paper waste doesn’t need to be transported off site. And unlike traditional recycling, which uses vast amounts of water, PaperLab uses none at all to produce new paper. Organisations can also drastically cut their spend as they only need to buy a little paper to meet employee demand.

Supporting the bigger picture

Epson believes technology should exist in harmony with ecology. New initiatives like PaperLab demonstrate how recycling technology can support those businesses that want to minimise their environmental impact through greener operations.

Technology like this is especially important for businesses that are committing to ISO 14001 regulation. The ISO 14001 regulation provides guidance on how businesses can respond to changing environmental conditions and protect the natural world, while balancing their socio-economic needs.

In Japan, PaperLab is already being used by government offices that are leading the way in ISO 14001 adoption. In Shiojiri City Hall, the government views PaperLab not just as an immediate behavioural change, but an essential investment for the future.

“I believe PaperLab will play a big role in teaching children about the environment,” says Toshiyuki Oguchi, Mayor of Shiojiri. “We have already had elementary school fourth graders visit the city hall to see it.”

PaperLab is available now in Japan and will come to Europe in 2018.

A new approach

We need to think differently about how we recycle. Small steps don’t add up to the big change required to reverse the effects of deforestation. Technology like PaperLab will make it easier and therefore much more viable for companies to recycle paper waste. The process takes the pressure off individual employees, and puts the responsibility back on the business as a whole to take action.

Making the switch for laser to inkjet printers can also support businesses’ sustainability initiatives. Find out how