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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 November 2006, 09:18 GMT
Plastic paper to 'cut' emissions
The Toshiba B-SX8R, Toshiba
Toshiba said the printer could help firms cut emissions
Toshiba has developed a printer that uses plastic "paper" that can be re-used hundreds of times.

The electronics firm said the printer could help companies reduce carbon emissions as it helped to cut the amount of paper they consume.

Toshiba said the machine was designed for businesses and could find a home in many niche applications where permanent copies of documents were not needed.

Industry experts said firms might find it hard to adjust to re-useable paper.

Lifecycle cost

The paper used by the B-SX8R printer is made of a plastic known as polyethylene terephthalate or PET - the same kind as is used for bottles of fizzy drinks. Over this is a layer of heat-sensitive chemical pigments that, under different conditions, turns white or black.

By altering the temperature and cooling times applied to this pigment it becomes possible to write and erase black and white text or graphics. The printer can produce up to 12 pages per minute and has a print resolution of 12 dots per mm or 300 dots per inch.

Mike Keane, a spokesman for Toshiba TEC Europe, said under normal working conditions a sheet of the plastic paper can be used 500 times.

Mr Keane said the thermal printing technology used in the B-SX8R printer first emerged in the 1970s and was used in fax machines.

"None of this is really new technology," he said. "It's technology that's already established."

Comparisons carried out by Toshiba suggest that companies could reduce their carbon emissions in two ways by adopting the printer, said Mr Keane.

Firstly, he said, the production process for the B-SX8R generates about 1.5kg of CO2 emissions. By comparison the production process for laser printers, which require either ink or toner, generates up to 6.5kg of carbon emissions.

Car exhaust and fumes, Getty
The printer could help firms cut the emissions they indirectly create
Secondly, he said, the fact that it helps firms to use less paper and reduces the amount they have to recycle would also help reduce the emissions for which a firm was responsible.

Mr Keane said the printer was not intended to replace paper printers but would probably find a role in "closed loop" processes such as in a warehouse where staff are given a picking list of items to gather. In such applications, he said, there was no need to keep a permanent record.

Provided firms re-used sheets of paper about 500 times, the B-SX8R had comparable running costs to industrial laser printers, said Mr Keane. Currently each sheet of PET paper costs about 5 ($10).

He said the machine would save firms the most money if they put in place processes that ensured the plastic paper was re-used.

But Jeff Cooper, chair of the International Solid Waste Association's Scientific and Technical Committee, said adapting to using the printer could be a problem.

"The main problem is likely to be the human behavioural issues and training ourselves to re-use quickly rather than hoard," said Mr Cooper.

He also questioned Toshiba's analysis of the lifecycle costs of using paper compared to the B-SX8R as it did not take enough account of the costs involved in storing the plastic paper for a long time.

Using plastic paper for documents would involve "substituting an eminently renewable resource for a predominantly non-renewable resource," he said.

The B-SX8R has been available in Japan since July 2006 but Toshiba said it could be 2008 before the machine is launched in Europe. It said it was releasing details now to gauge interest among European firms and to start the process of re-designing it to meet European regulations.

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