Laser 'Unprinter' to Boost Paper Reuse over Recycling

An Article from the Waste Management World Magazine


19 March 2012

Cambridge University has run successful trails that utilised a laser 'unprinter' to remover toner from paper, leaving it fit for reuse ahead of recycling.

According to the University, Dr Julian Allwood, leader of the Low Carbon Materials Processing Group at the University of Cambridge, and David Leal-Ayala, PhD student at the group, tested toner-print removal from paper by employing a variety of lasers.

The results showed that toner-print can be removed effectively without causing significant paper damage, allowing the paper to be treated higher up the waste hierarchy and be reused - rather than discarded, shredded or sent to a recycling plant.

The University claimed that coupled with advances in low-energy laser scanning technology, copiers and printers, its research could lead to that toner-removing devices becoming a common sight in future offices.

With the aid of The Bavarian Laser Centre, a total of 10 laser setups spanning a range of strength and pulse durations were tested in the study. 

The lasers also spanned the ultraviolet, visible and infrared spectrum. The paper used in the experiments was standard Canon copy paper with HP Laserjet black toner, common in offices around the world.

Once the paper was exposed to the laser, the samples were then analysed under a scanning electron microscope and subjected to colour, mechanical and chemical analyses.

The implications of the study also extend beyond the workplace and into the forest.  Reducing the use of trees from the paper lifecycle is a real possibility. In addition, the researchers said that reusing paper could save an additional 50% to 80% in carbon emissions over recycling.

"Material recovery through reusing eliminates the forestry step from the life cycle of paper and eradicates emissions arising from paper incineration or decomposition in landfill," Allwood explained.

"What we need to do now is find someone to build a prototype. Thanks to low-energy laser scanners and laser-jet printers, the feasibility for reusing paper in the office is there," he concluded.




Annepu, R. (2012). Laser 'Unprinter' to Boost Paper Reuse over Recycling. Retrieved from


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