business waste

Saving paper with disappearing ink

Decades on from the anticipated ‘paperless office’, global paper consumption continues to rise. More paper is recycled than ever before, but the rising demand from developing economies is piling the pressure on the world’s forests.

It is estimated that 200 million trees were cut down to provide China with paper in 2013. That is driving major deforestation in countries such as Indonesia, and Chinese environmental organisations have begun to focus on paper use.

Since the majority of what we print is only needed for a matter of minutes, Friends of the Earth China has come up with a creative solution – disappearing ink. They worked with a lab to create an ink that slowly fades when exposed to carbon dioxide.

It’s a simple intervention. Just load in the new cartridge, and print what you need as normal. After two or three days, the ink will have faded and left the paper good as new and ready to use again.

The ad above was run to raise awareness of paper waste rather than a market the new ink, but apparently it has been developed and successfully tested. Unless re-usable e-paper gets there first, perhaps we might yet see disappearing ink become a standard office feature. And while we wait, we can reduce paper waste the old fashioned way – by thinking before we print.



  1. Most printing out is done for a permanent (or at least semi-permanent) record. This is a classic dumb publicity stunt.

      1. The first problem is knowing what will and what won’t be thrown out. If I print out presentation for 5 people 4 might throw it away. But one might file it for future reference. When I print it off I don’t know which one will be kept, so I’d print all 5 with standard ink.

        Another major problem is that unless paper is flat, square and uncreased it will jam in a printer. Since reading will probably bend the corners and it would take too much time to collect the paper and put it in neat piles this paper would be thrown away as useless anyway.

        The final problem that even if you get it back uncreased and re-sort it then the ink will still be there, almost certainly readable under the right conditions. So if it had anything slightly confidential it will have to be shredded anyway.

        If you want to cut waste paper then have a strict clear desk policy which discourages printing out as you have to store it which becomes a big pain, and have secure printing so you have go to the printer to make it print so you think before pressing Print.

        As I said this is a dumb publicity stunt. Not thought through.

        1. Yes, it is first and foremost a publicity stunt, but it’s not a dumb one. It’s a creative way to highlight the issue of paper waste, and if you stop and think about it, chances are you’ll come to the same conclusions that you have – that a clear desk policy and having to walk to the printer are a simpler idea.

  2. Hi Jeremy. I’ve just come across the complete opposite of Disappearing Ink – it’s the ink that registrars of births, deaths and marriages use when signing their various certificates. The ink contains a silver compound that doesn’t fade, and has been used for several 100 years. Paper documents eventually become flimsy and transparent, but the silver ink never fades. Not many people know that.


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