Researchers at the Universiti Malaysia Sarawak have developed a paper recycling process which ditches the chemicals for a more natural approach.
For the few paper products I buy, I look for 100% post-consumer content—especially for toilet paper, as I like to avoid flushing trees down the can. But as we’re sometimes reminded, our recycling technology is not always perfect. For scrap paper to turn into a new ream or roll, the used product must go through an expensive de-inking process involving chemicals that aren’t too friendly to the environment.
Traditionally the recycling process starts by blending paper to a pulp and then treating it with an array of harmful detergents and alkali to remove any ink, and then later bleaching the product to a bright white. While this process works well with newsprint, laser-printed office wastepaper doesn’t fare quite so well.
To better remove the pigment from laser-printed paper, the Malaysian scientists turned to a natural enzyme called endoglucanase, which is grown in a liquid culture containing palm pith waste and rice husk. The enzyme removes the ink without changing the final paper product; in fact, when compared to its chemically-treated counterpart, the researchers found the paper had enhanced “brightness, air permeability, tensile, and tear.”
This research could not only reduce the toxicity of the paper recycling process, but also make it more economical to perform. Once the method catches on, we can all rest assured that recycled post-consumer paper is not only saving trees and energy, but also produced using clean technology.