Each year, UK companies throw out or recycle tons of waste paper, but Toshiba has now come up with a printer that allows you to use the same paper up to 500 times. The only problem is that it is a very special paper that comes at a very special price.
The Toshiba B-SX8R uses thermal technology and re-writable paper. The special glossy paper is inserted in a hopper and printed on as usual. Once used, the paper can be put in the same hopper and passed through the machine, and the ink will be erased.
Toshiba believes the technology will appeal to companies looking to improve their green credentials. It is already on sale in Japan and the company is now looking to expand into Europe, but will be cautious about doing it.
One things that may put European consumers off is the cost. According to Toshiba's commercial manager for printers and related products, Michael Keene, the company is still some way off setting its European and UK pricing.
"If you look at the pricing in Japan it will be around £5,000 for the printer," said Keene. "The paper is £5 per sheet at the moment."
Keene stressed that Toshiba was at the stage of "testing the market" at the moment and is taking the printer on a European tour to see what businesses think.
He was keen to stress that the company did not see it as a general-purpose printer that would go into normal business use; still less is it a consumer product.
"The sort of applications that will use this are where there is a large volume and the printed copies are only required for a very short period, " said Keene.
"Work instructions, picking lists, shipping instructions, inventory slips and process checklists, that kind of thing and workflow."
The big advantage of the B-SX8R is that there can be almost zero paper wastage and no need for consumables. To work, the special, semi-glossy, paper is fed through a hopper at the front of the unit. The hopper keeps the paper in a tight, symmetrical stack, which is important. It is then fed into the central unit where it is heated up to 300°C to remove any previously printed image. It then passes to the third part of the unit where it heats to 180°C and an image can be added.
"It is very similar to the old thermal printer technology," said Keene. "Like an old fax printer." Thermal printing was used extensively in the 1970s and 1980s.
The printer prints at a respectable 12ppm (pages per minute). "You can re-use the paper 500 times," said Keene. "That what we will promote it at, but you can in theory use it 1,000 times or more."
The technique is entirely based around what Keene calls "very, very clever paper". It changes its properties as heat is applied, said Keene. "It is a form of plastic with a PPT base."
Of course, there is a possibility that the energy needed to heat the paper will offset the printer's environmental benefits.
Toshiba believe that with proper use, the printer will pay for itself. But Keene admits it requires "a new way of thinking" about how paper is used. The paper is not only expensive, it needs to be looked after. Damage to the paper will result in distorted images or worse.
But it also means that for some companies, the next ream of paper they buy could be the last one they require.