One of the reasons that the circular economy framework has been a powerful lens for innovation is the redesign potential that it offers. With a creative outlook and a familiarity with the principles of a circular economy, one can look at virtually any product, process or system and ask “what would this look like in a circular economy?”
Often there are multiple possibilities, and frequently the answer is not obvious. Paper and printing is one example of an area that is difficult to imagine in a regenerative and restorative circular economy. The enormous growth in the use of computers, mobile devices and e-readers has made little impact on the use of paper, and the ‘paperless office’ utopia remains distant. The paper industry today requires substantial inputs, especially water and energy, and landfill is still a common end-of-use route.
One option could be cleaner, more effective and more widespread recycling practices. Paper could also be better designed as a biological nutrient, rebuilding natural capital. But REEP, a startup from Israel, is taking a different approach: to rethink paper, and our relationship with it.
Paper lends surprisingly well to the circular approach
Three years ago, Barak Yekutiely set out to reinvent paper. Appreciating the resource impacts of paper and that people enjoy using paper documents for printing, reading, sharing and annotating, the approach was not to necessarily reduce the use of paper, but rather to use each piece more effectively.
Barak was aware of some published research and technologies that sought to remove or hide toner from paper, leaving the paper ‘as new’ and ready for re-use. However, the methods developed elsewhere fell short of user expectations in terms of performance, functionality, and cost. With paper still very much part of our personal and working lives, incumbent businesses are working to resolve the tension between the physical and digital worlds through ‘managed print services’ arrangements. Barak sees REEP as an integral part of new age managed print services.
In 2012, the REEP process was born, composed of two elements. The first is an ablation resistant, erasable paper that “just seems like a nice quality paper compatible with existing laser printers and copiers”. The second component, a device resembling an office multi-function printer, contains a laser that can erase the page, removing the toner from this re-engineered paper. This also saves the contents of the page, including any of the user’s annotations, and presents the page ready to be used again. Now, rather than buying reams of office paper and paying for storage, distribution, scanning, collecting, and shredding, customers now buy the REEP service that provides cost savings without any upfront investments.
Here’s how it could look in an office. During or at the end of the day, a stack of paper documents can be taken to the REEP multi-function peripheral “REEPER” for automatic paper document processing. Instead of a paper cabinet, a shredder and various bins for recycling and confidential waste paper, the REEPER securely scans the documents, saving them securely to the cloud and erasing the paper. Three reams of paper on average would serve 35 employees a day, and each sheet can be re-used 10-20 times over. If a piece of paper is damaged or beyond re-use, it can be recycled in the traditional manner.
To be resource efficient, we don’t need to reduce office printing - we want to print in a circular manner with exponentially less paper
The cost-saving opportunity is substantial. The more a company cycles their paper with REEP, the greater the savings, and REEP estimate that a business can save up to 50% annually on their paper document processing costs.
Another benefit of this approach is the added security, time, and cost saved in the destruction and removal of confidential documents, something which is often outsourced. It might sound like magic, but the REEP process and patented technology works with existing printers and can securely remove information from paper, and is therefore able to integrate into any office workflow.
Once you put the document in you don’t care about the paper anymore - you care about the information
The aim is to gamify the process, so that organizations and users
can monitor their financial and environmental performance on their smartphones,
and compare to other individuals, divisions, and organizations.
Collaboration and strategic partnerships has been key for those behind REEP. Barak says that the project has been truly multidisciplinary, and would have been impossible to do internally, even with endless resources. Taking REEP to the next level and setting the industry standards for reusable paper technologies, systems, and services, the REEP Alliance is now being established in collaboration with the paper industry, printer manufacturers, and managed print service vendors.
REEP’s company strapline is ‘freedom to print’, commensurate with the thinking that in order to develop a successful, prosperous future, we can do much better than just ‘using less’. To that end, REEP illustrates one of the many paradoxes we see around us. After all, we don’t actually want the paper, but the information that’s on it. It is in these paradoxes that many of the circular economy-inspired innovations of recent years have been found.
For further information visit the REEP website.