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.