Removing ink from paper with hand-held lasers?

Scientists believe that ink can be removed from paper with hand-held lasers, a development that would allow paper to be reused without being discarded, shredded or sent to a recycling plant.

Dr Julian Allwood, leader of the Low Carbon Materials Processing Group at Cambridge University, tested toner-print removal from paper by employing a variety of lasers. The results showed that toner ink can be removed effectively without causing significant paper damage. Coupled with advances in hand-held scanning technology, wireless devices, shredders, copiers and printers, the research means that inkremoving devices may soon be a common sight in offices around the country.

‘What we need to do now is find someone to build a prototype,” comments Allwood. “Thanks to hand-held scanners and laser-jet printers, the feasibility for reusing paper in the office is there.’

Removing the tree from the paper lifecycle is a real possibility. Along with saving forests from being used for new paper, reusing paper saves an additional 20% in emissions over recycling. The study poses the question of what would happen if paper was unprinted and reused instead of recycled. The action of removing ink with a laser would remove four steps from the paper production cycle: forestry, pulping, papermaking and disposal by incineration or landfill, resulting in a 95% reduction in emissions per tonne produced from the production of office paper rather than the 76% reduction we see now from recycling.