PaperLab: Epson’s amazing machine that destroys paper and then makes it…almost without water

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Epson PaperLab recycles used paper, destroying it down to the fibres, and can make new papers with a much better environmental record than the traditional paper recycling industry. Of course, we were interested.

PaperLab A-8000, a machine for “recycling” paper used to create new papers.

© Epson

on me DigitalWe love technology, but we are generally wary of technological solutions. Except of course when the solutions in question tick a lot of boxes and are really relevant, especially from an environmental point of view. This is the case of Epson’s PaperLab A-8000, a machine that damages paper before it is remanufactured on demand.

The Japanese group is currently marketing the second generation of PaperLab, which dates back to 2015, when its engineers focused on paper recycling. The company registers 5,000 patents annually and invests 1.2 million euros per day in research and development in a circular and sustainable economy, allowing it to imagine a whole range of concepts, including recycling paper used to create ink collection platforms installed in printers.

To do this, an industrial paper debossing process is set up, and the fibers are then re-compressed in a press to create an absorbent (such as a blotter) one centimeter thick: the tampon. Following these processes, and based on this well-established process, the engineers envisioned being able to completely recreate paper by improving the technology using a binder (called Paper Plus) and a press. In fact, Epson engineers have been able to patent a concept that is applied primarily to paper, but can also be adapted to other natural or man-made materials such as wood, cardboard and fabrics, which consist simply of reducing them to primary fibers by re-creating something new.

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miracle solution?

In its process, PaperLab contains almost everything for a miracle solution. Significant reduction in water consumption compared to industrial recycling (96% less); Very little waste, much better electricity consumption than traditional recycling; Savings in CO2 equivalent, and in an average one-year machine life, between 100 and 150 trees that will not be cut down.

“There is simply 10 liters of water in the device which stabilizes the hygrometer and avoids very volatile and dusty fibers, recycled water which needs to be changed once a week. The inks are separated and removed from the recycled paper and can be reprocessed properly. So we will be able to recycle a sheet of paper in more than eight times to make new sheets. Moreover, the fibers become very short and go to waste, under the form of a kind of very fine talc”explains Thierry Bagnachino, director of marketing at Epson.

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Thierry Bagnaccino, Director of Marketing

Thierry Bagnaccino, Director of Marketing

© Epson

We cannot resist the temptation to ask him about the interest of such a machine, as impressive as it is, in a world where everything is immaterial at high speed. Does PaperLab come too late, or is our view of writing that uses less paper biased? “As individuals, we are printing less, although we have seen the interest in personal printers during the pandemic, with sales booming. Paper is still mandatory.He answers before adding: “There are also cultural differences. Japan is notorious for being awash in paper, even though it is a very tech-oriented country. In sectors such as banks, administration, ministries, schools, and large documentation companies, paper is still ubiquitous and there is better than throwing it in Recycling, when it comes to good litter”.

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Of mass destruction

Another argument put forward by the Marketing Director: P7 certified document shredding technology (the highest technology out there), so that a page buried in PaperLab can never reveal its secrets. From this angle, PaperLab is the equivalent of burning, and it proves to be much safer than paper shredders that cut it into thin strips. This is important in some of the occupations covered by the product.

But what are the obstacles to adopting such a solution? It’s not a lot, but it’s hard to beat. PaperLab is very expensive, takes up a lot of space and requires employees to adopt some new habits.

On the price side, the technology is still nascent and exclusive, which partially justifies the high monthly cost. PaperLab is marketed with a contract related to the number of pages, such as a photocopier, and costs on average just under €10,000 per month with a 7-year commitment. If inflation tends to improve the economic balance sheet of the machine, it is still more expensive than buying paper in packets. However, price is not the driving force for early adopters who also see it – above all – as an environmental gesture (and also a way to make eco-friendly communications).

“You should know that the standard P7 paper shredder is worth 25,000 euros, and PaperLab offers a capacity of 5-10 machines of this type, for example”, tempers Thierry Bagnachino, who specifies that the PaperLab lease includes delivery, assembly, maintenance, fiber-tie consumables, warranty and personnel training. And then we save money. “If you need three A3 sheets on a pink background, you can create them on request, no need to buy a ream. We can produce up to 720 A4 sheets per hour. [la première sort en 3 minutes, NDLR] Many thicknesses are possible.he adds.

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Because yes, each structure in which PaperLab is installed will identify one or two people responsible for its operation, but also for collecting paper “in the floors”, which must be done by following certain rules: Paper must not be thrown into a ball, not torn or bound with clips or staples. For safety, closed recovery boxes can of course be installed. But there are new habits to adopt.

force machine

As for the size of the machine, it is … huge. “The smaller versions are on the drawing boards. Downsizing is one of our main goals because we know it’s a problem”promises Thierry Bagnaccino, who tells us a tale with a smile. “In Europe, there are currently only two versions of PaperLab in operation, one for an Italian fashion designer with a strong focus on the environment, and the other at the Ministry of the Environment in Madrid. In Italy, PaperLab was installed in a huge reception company hall. But in Spain, the ministry was installed in Old building with small holes. The space for the PaperLab lab was found, but the entrance door to this room is too small. We really thought we were going to have to give up on the project, and we really had to disassemble the machine as much as we could so we could fit it in in time.”.

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