These days, it is rare to find an office that is not encouraging its staff to "reduce, reuse or recycle" all the paper consumed in a workday. With the average American going through more than 700 pounds of paper per year, many firms are looking for ways to discourage their employees from over-using the office printer.
Toshiba America Business Solutions has come up with an alternative idea. It has introduced the e-STUDIO4508LP, a hybrid printer that gives users the option to print with erasable toner - allowing a single piece of paper to be reused several times.
"It is somewhat ironic to have a printer company focus on reducing the amount of paper we use," said Bill Melo, chief marketing executive for Toshiba America Business Solutions. But, he said, Toshiba has long been looking at ways to reduce the eco-footprint of printing.
To reuse a piece of paper, the printer essentially uses the same process as a normal printer, but in reverse, Melo said. Paper printed with the eraseable toner is fed back into the printer, super-heated, and the toner gets removed and put in a discard tank. The process generates a high enough heat that there is little danger of losing your information if, say, you keep the sheets in your car on hot day.
There are a couple of catches. All of the printouts using the eraseable toner have to be in blue ink, which is the only color in which eraseable toner is now available. And the company said that people may want to stop reusing the printouts after five times through the eraser because small traces of erased text will build up over time.
The $15,420 printer is aimed at offices and schools, where there are often large numbers of printouts that outlive their usefulness quickly. With the eraseable toner, it's possible to load any short-lived handouts back onto the printer to be erased and then reused.
Still, convincing customers to commit to erasable toner isn't always easy. Toshiba previously released a printer that used only eraseable toner a few years ago. But, Melo said, the company soon found out that not all its customers were happy about only having the erasable option.
The hybrid model, Melo said, should better serve the needs of those who want to be environmentally conscious but also may need something more permanent on occasion.
"I wouldn't use it for highly confidential things," Melo said. "But for everyday things, it would be fine."