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Chatter around generating less waste and conserving as many resources as possible continues to flood the airways of the print industry, though our industry is still one of many which comes under constant scrutiny for its less-than-ideal environmental impact. In an effort to realize a greener process (and planet), Epson’s Paperlab A-8000 is set to transform the way businesses recycle paper in the name of sustainability, circularity, and security.
Tech That’s Years in the Making
Paperlab isn’t exactly news to anyone who’s been involved in the industry within the last decade. The device was initially announced back in December 2015 at the Eco-Products Conference in Tokyo, Japan. What makes Paperlab so special is the technology behind it. Epson's unique dry fiber technology allows it to generate new paper from waste paper using virtually no water, which is a significant departure from how paper is traditionally recycled with substantial amounts of water used to pulp, deink, and separate paper into fibers. This reduction in water usage (thanks to defibration) also translates to a significant decrease in energy usage compared to paper recycling as we currently know it, as the device does not require as much energy to bring water up to temperature.
The Paperlab A-8000 uses mechanical components to crush paper into pieces during defibration, which are then bound and pressed into new, white sheets of paper ready for use. What’s more, the Paperlab A-8000 can do it all in just a few minutes and can recycle up to 720 sheets of A4 paper per hour. This kind of speed and efficiency make the device an attractive option for businesses of any kind—not to mention the device can recycle and produce a variety of different document types, from your standard pages to business cards and workbooks.
Coming Full Circle: The End Goal
Much of the Paperlab A-8000’s positioning is inspired by the creation of a more closed-loop solution to traditional paper recycling, a concept reinforced by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Paperlab aims to localize the recycling process, reducing the need to send non-virgin paper to industrial mills to be pulped and deinked before being reproduced as new paper. This means that transportation-related carbon emissions and costs are reduced, contributing to a more circular economy. By localizing the paper recycling process and reducing the need for virgin paper, the Paperlab A-8000 greatly helps to accelerate progress towards several of the UN’s SDGs, many of which have proven to be quite difficult to achieve by the designated time frame.
A Larger Footprint in Exchange for a Smaller One
As it stands, the Paperlab A-8000 is a behemoth of paper recycling machinery, so much so that it practically necessitates its own dedicated space to operate. It weighs in at nearly 4,000lbs and its dimensions are 9.4ft x 4.7ft x 6.6ft. But what if it could be scaled down (or even up) to better meet the needs of any organization. The Paperlab A-8000 is highly scalable, which means that it could be adjusted to meet various business needs and business types. For example, small businesses that produce only a few sheets of paper per day can (potentially) use a smaller version of the machine to accommodate their lower-volume recycling needs, though a smaller Paperlab model may not be on the horizon just yet. In contrast, large paper mills can install multiple Paperlab A-8000 units to increase production while mitigating their environmental footprint.
Self-Sufficiency Through Sustainability
The potential impact of the Paperlab A-8000 on paper mills across the globe could be significant. Most rely heavily on imported waste paper to run their machines and produce new sheets of paper, so it stands to reason the Paperlab A-8000 could disrupt this supply chain by allowing businesses to recycle their own waste paper on-site—thereby leading to a reduction in the demand for imported waste paper and impacting the global paper recycling industry.
At the same token, the ability to upcycle waste paper in-house facilitates a feeling of autonomy for businesses using the A-8000. Businesses utilizing Paperlab may no longer need to rely on these mills for their paper needs and can instead recycle their own paper in-house, reducing their dependence on external suppliers and contributing to a more sustainable business model.
A huge contributor to this sense of self-governance and autonomy against traditional recycling processes is the security benefits of the Paperlab A-8000. Being able to securely dispose of highly sensitive documents could prove very useful for a slew of vertical markets such as government agencies, financial institutions, and healthcare providers who handle sensitive physical documents on a regular basis. This added level of security can give businesses peace of mind knowing that their confidential information will not fall into the wrong hands.
Keypoint Intelligence Opinion
On paper, the Paperlab A-8000 is an absolute game-changer for the paper recycling market. Even for those who’ve seen it in action, it’s clear that Epson is onto something major…something that’s here to stay. In fact, Epson plans to leverage their defibrating technology from Paperlab and apply it toward the upcycling of other raw materials (e.g., silk, wood, or cotton). Plus, there’s still a substantial niche to be carved for smaller, consumer-grade versions of the A-8000 for use in everyday office environments.
That said, as the print industry continues to seek out more sustainable methods for paper production, Epson's Paperlab A-8000 represents a significant step forward toward a circular economy. I’m looking forward to see not only how far Epson and the Paperlab A-8000 can push the boundaries of paper recycling, but how fast it can happen over the course of the next five to ten years.
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