Point-source recycling SEEDs questions

Posted on December 18, 2008

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There’s a 3D printer in the product development centre at work.   I think it’s fantastic.   I just love the thought experiment of how things will change when 3D printing becomes ubiquitous.    What will be the impact of us being able to fabricate parts on every desktop?    

A different device has had me thinking this week.    The Meiko SEED recycles paper in the office – takes used paper in, mushes it up, produces new paper.    It looks like a photocopier (well, two photocopiers joined with a trunk).    This could have a radical impact,  getting close to cradle-to-cradle for a major resource.

Christine Lepisto on Treehugger gives a quick analysis of the environmental footprint for 1500 sheets:

  • SEED automated process: 200 liters of water and 38kWh
  • 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.

She says “quite honestly, this is a better result than we had expected”. She  wonders how it would stand up to a full footprint analysis – including accounting for transport in traditional recycling,  and the chemicals in SEED’s  waste water . 

By my counting, the SEED is a long way from being financially viable.   Producing 1500 pages per day it could save US$19.50 per day.   Each peice of paper can be recycled 10 times,  so each day the machine saves $17.50 (also ignoring power costs, waste water disposal and the embedded energy/materials in the machine).

The current cost of the SEED is US$86,000.  Operating at capacity this gives a ROI  of 13.4 years – way too long.    It would have to cost  under $25K to pay for itself in 5 years (perhaps $20K once operating costs and power are back in).

Assuming they can overcome the technical challenges to make them viable, what are the behaviour changes that the SEED would facilitate?  What are the changes it would need?  What are the business processes that would or could change?   (note to my software engineers – how might you track the generation of each piece of paper?  would you have to have separate stacks of differently aged paper?). 

Would having an seemingly inexhaustible source of paper result in us using more paper, or would the in-your-face manufacturing process bring home the costs and have us using less?

Babelfish translation of Japanese link.

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