You’ve likely seen those hand-cranked, wrought iron presses that allow you to recycle your old newspapers into burnable bricks or fire logs. Now Shigeru Ota, a 75-year-old Japanese bicycle shop owner from Tateyama city in Japan’s Chiba prefecture, has worked up something similar that cuts the unwieldy compressed brinks of newsprint down to size.
In both rural Japan and many third world countries, home heating in cold weather is usually done with charcoal burned on a small, hibachi-style, portable charcoal grill. Massive bricks or logs compressed from old newspaper just aren’t practical.
Ota’s innovative solution uses a 5cm (2-inch) wide steel pipe. After being soaked in water, pulpy masses of newspaper are compressed to remove water using a mechanism similar to that of a ratcheting caulk gun. Once thoroughly dried, the plugs of newsprint resemble standard charcoal briquettes in shape and size.
Could Ota’s invention work in industrialized countries on a much larger scale? A significant percentage of solid landfill waste is made up of newspapers and other discarded newsprint, which burns with a respectable heating value of 7,883 BTU per pound. To put things in perspective, the roughly 1,400 tons of newsprint discarded every day in North Carolina could replace 883 tons of coal!
There may be some downside to recycling newsprint by burning it, however. Questions as to the toxicity of burned ink make using compressed newspaper as barbeque charcoal risky business. As well, mercury compounds are often used as anti-fungal agents when newsprint is produced. Mercury vapor could be released into the air when such newsprint is later burned in a charcoal fire. All in all, further research is needed into the viability and safety of Shigeru Ota’s idea.
How to cut big bricks down to size?