2012-02-13

Co.Exist

A Laptop Made From Paper Turns The Digital Revolution On Its Head

People can talk all they want about how computers may pave the way for a "paperless office," but a new innovation in making plastics means that turning our discarded paper into electronics might be the best way to get rid of all that problematic e-waste.

Computers were supposed to replace paper and transform everything in the office. Paper is now returning the favor.

Paper PP Alloy, a new alloy made from paper and polypropylene designed to replace plastics in consumer electronics, is being used to create the body of the first paper computer (at least the body; the circuits are still silicon-based). The designer, PEGA Design and Engineering, calls it "strong, sturdy, environmentally friendly and inexpensive to make."

You can’t fold an origami laptop at home. You’ll need some polypropylene thermoplastic polymer to inject into the paper mix to harden a shell suitable for use in laptops, furniture, or many other things with a plastic exterior. Although polypropylene is used in everything from envelopes to clothes and loudspeakers, the right composition allows it to break down in sunlight or a landfill.

Yet for this to really take off as a replacement for the forever plastic that chokes our landfill and fires our incinerators, manufacturers will need to adopt it en masse. PEGA says it has tried to make this as easy as possible with a Paper PP Alloy manufacturing process very similar to the one used for conventional plastic casings. No word yet on which companies are already using it.

As electronic waste grows into an enormous source of toxic contamination for the U.S., and developing countries where we export our waste, manufacturers have come under pressure to "take back" their products to recycle or safely dispose of them. USA Today reports that 17 states are banning electronic waste from landfills, while Europe recently passed a directive requiring electronics retailers to accept used devices and manufacturers must already have programs to handle the e-waste.

Groups such as the Electronics TakeBack Coalition say recycling hazardous e-waste is only one part of the solution. The other is not to make hazardous waste at all. The day when choosing between paper and plastic is not a choice between less destructive alternatives, but a truly sustainable solution, inches the idea a bit closer.

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7 Comments

  • PW13

    Materials created from hemp are even more efficient in terms of the amount of energy used to grow it and the minimal environmental impact it has. Entire cars (Ford has one) have been built using hemp. While this is a great idea for using paper, the extra step of using hemp is even more appealing

  • HeadPack

    First I thought calling a composite material made of cellulose and a thermoplast an alloy was a just marketing. But they are right. Still, how do you recycle this? Processing the material like paper or like plastics?

  • Max

     You might want to research how decomposition actually works in the real world - a lot f stuff out there isn't real-world decomposable and is just another greenwashing tactic since the conditions for the material to decompose are not available in most of the world (only in a few controlled locations, which is usually not near where this stuff is used and thrown out).

  • Beverly Millson

    Headpack (and Paul): At least it decomposes, which is a lot more than we can say for plastic. But I do see your point. 

  • Paul Davis

    It's basically impossible to recycle. There's no practical way to separate the polypropylene from the fiber. Too bad they don't just use polylactic acid instead (it's compostable).