New technology allows printed paper to be erased and reused

The laser process removes toner, making the method almost 20 times as efficient as recycling.

Click ‘unprint’

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Futurists have long dreamed of the “paperless office,” but despite all the computers at our disposal these days, we seem to use as much paper as ever. Julian Allwood, group leader of the low-carbon materials processing group at the University of Cambridge, proposes a new technique to recycle it. In a scientific journal article, he and collaborators describe a laser process that can remove toner from printed paper so that it can be used again—essentially an “unprinter.”

Just as lasers apply toner to the page, very short pulses of laser light are used to heat the ink up again until it vaporizes; with this technique, a single piece of paper can reportedly be reused up to five times. The team says their method can be almost 20 times as efficient as recycling. Commercializing this system is a ways off, but it’s not impossible to imagine that office printers of the future might have an “unprint” button, too.

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