Image: Business Media
A vision for the future: no more sorting, paper separating, curbside collection. Just feed your business papers into the shredder, turn the Meiko SEED system on and overnight the used paper is recycled into a clean, fresh pile of 1500 new sheets of paper. The Meiko SEED paper recycling system was introduced recently at the Eco-Products 2008 convention in Japan. It sounds like the ultimate solution for paper recycling. But what are the costs? Can point-source recycling compete with large scale collection and recycling on energy and environmental impact?According to Bouncing Red Ball, an english language report on the new recycling system, the process consists of two machines, similar in size and appearance to an ordinary office photocopying system. The first part of the system, RPN-1500P, dissolves used paper into pulp. This achieves the perfect security which offices today seek via cross-shredding. The second unit, RPM-1500S, receives the pulp slurry via pipe from the first unit and reconstructs, dries and cuts it into a perfect stack of A4 sheets. Only tap water is needed for the process, no chemicals are added. Paper can be recycled up to ten times without a degradation in quality.
The fully automated process can produce 1500 sheets of paper in ten hours, consuming 200 liters of water and 38 kWh of electricity. How does this compete with virgin paper or traditional paper recycling? Before complicating the matter, let us look at the simple math. According to the Sustainability Calculator developed by German paper company Steinbeis in cooperation with the Institute for Research into Energy and the Environment, 1500 sheets of office paper have an environmental footprint as follows:
- Virgin paper: 390.7 liters of water and 80.3 kWh of energy consumption;
- Recycled paper: 153.4 liters of water and 31.4 kWh of energy consumed.
Quite honestly, this is a better result than we had expected. The Meiko SEED process is fully competitive on an energy consumption basis, without trying to account for the distances paper is transported for recycling or other factors that vary locally. And don't forget the energy savings from not running the paper shredder.
The Meiko process uses about 30% more water than Steinbeis and IFEU calculated for a traditional office paper recycling process, but still substantially less than is required to produce virgin paper. It is close enough that a really aggressive life-cycle analysis could probably even out the odds by looking at the water consumption required to produce and transport the fuel needed to deliver new reams of office paper and other savings realized by regenerating paper directly on site where it is wasted and re-used. That would leave open some questions about what wastewater is generated by the SEED process and how chemicals such as paper sizing or coatings are managed.
In sum, at first glance the Meiko SEED on-site paper recycling system looks like a promising technology. Units will go on sale in spring 2009, for about $86,000 each. Meiko expects to sell 100 units in the first year. A technology worth watching.
Thanks to tipster Reon!