IT manufacturer Toshiba has revealed it could introduce a new printer that uses plastic paper into the European market in the next few years as demand increases for more environmentally sustainable printing technologies.
The B-SX8R printer, which is aimed at business customers and could be used to support any process where documents do not need to be kept, was launched in Japan last year and promises to reduce firm's carbon emissions as well as their paper waste.
The company had held off introducing the product in Europe due to concerns that demand may be insufficient to justify redesigning the product to achieve compliance with the EU's Restrictions on Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive. But Toshiba spokesman Mike Keane said recently that the company was currently in discussions with large European customers about the product and was increasingly confident that it would undertake a redesign and launch the model in Europe.
He added that a final decision would be made in the summer but said that he thought a European launch would now happen. "I think the interest is there for these types of systems and if we get the right feedback from customers we'll definitely do it," he said. "The amount of interest in environmental issues means that companies that ignore systems like this will look worse."
The plastic paper – which Toshiba claims can be used up to 500 times - is made from polyethylene terephthalate or PET that is then layered with heat sensitive chemical pigments that can be turned black or white under certain conditions. Altering the temperatures and cooling times applied to the paper produces or erases text and graphics with the printer capable of producing up to 12 pages a minute.
Toshiba said that this approach allows firms to slash the amount of waste paper they generate, adding that the temperature based printing process means that the B-SX8R generates also accounts for just 1.5kg of CO2 emissions during the production process, compared to around 6.5kg from laser printers.
Cost savings could also result from the technology, according to Keane. "The paper costs about £5 a sheet, so we've calculated that if you are printing 200 sheets a day you wouldn't save money though there would be environmental savings," he said. "If you print 300 to 350 sheets a day you'd have both financial and environmental savings."
However, Keane warned that European companies interested in the technology would have to be careful to ensure the printer was used for the right purposes.
"In Japan, the B-SX8R is proving popular because people have no concerns with handling the paper and then returning it back into the system," he explained. "We need to ensure similar processes are in place at European customers so that the paper isn't thrown out."
Toshiba predicts closed loop processes where the document is returned after it has been used, such as manufacturing quality checks or delivery checklists, are the most likely applications for the printer.
Keane added that it would still be some time before reusable paper printers appear in European offices. "We have a similar system to the B-SX8R in Japan called eBlue where you heat up the paper and it is cleaned," he said. "It can be reused up to five times, but outside Japan we decided it wouldn't work as too many people just wouldn't return the paper to be reused."
However, he predicted that environmental concerns would eventually drive greater adoption of these new technologies, regardless of Europeans' traditionally profligacy. "Japanese businesses have always had well-defined flow systems for paperwork," he said. "But these processes are becoming more pronounced in Europe and I think the culture is now more susceptible to these technologies."
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