Tonnes of wasted printed paper could get a new lease of life if "erasable ink" technology proves big in Japan.
The erasing machine might encourage paper reuse
Toshiba has come up with a carbon-free ink that can be rubbed out with heat from a portable eraser machine.
The ink and machine, which goes on sale in Japan this week, can clean swathes of paper at a time, and could help create more eco-friendly paper use.
Waste paper currently makes up 40% of total office rubbish in Japan, with about 60% being recycled.
Greens and sleuths
Super sleuths and magicians will be excited at the prospect of being able to make ink disappear, but environmentalists will be even happier that recycling could be made a bit easier.
The so-called "e-blue" technology basically reverses the chemical bonding reaction that happens in the development process during thermal printing, which uses heat and pressure to put images and text on paper.
Once, there was a dream that technology would create a "paperless office", but people still cannot "make do" with electronic documents alone.
"Despite new tools like e-mail and the development of all sorts of wireless technologies, people still just like to have things on paper," Junichi Nagaki of Toshiba told BBC News Online.
"We don't think demand for paper will ever disappear completely."
But the volume of paper consumption is something which worries environmentalists, and as more Japanese companies investigate eco-friendly products, there could be a significant demand for a hi-tech solution.
The e-blue technology works on documents that have been printed using the special ink or toner, which appears in a blue colour to distinguish it from normal toner or ink.
The ink loses its colour when it is treated in the special erasing machine, which exposes the ink to very high temperatures of about 140ºC (284ºF).
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At that temperature, the chemical bonding of the dye in the ink is broken down, making it invisible.
The erasing machine can handle about 400 to 500 A4 sheets of paper or 200 to 250 A3 sheets in under three hours.
The paper can then be used over and over again until it falls apart.
It has already proved popular in trials with some Toshiba employees, says Mr Nagaki.
"They have been able to cut paper costs by 60%, in terms of purchasing new paper at the office.
"It also contributed to a reduction in wasted paper because employees reuse the papers which are printed by e-blue toner about five to six times before recycling it in the normal way."
Toshiba says it is also developing a photocopier which will be able to use the technology, and if the technology proves popular, Toshiba says it will consider marketing it in Europe.