Tech vs. Trees: Scientists design eco-friendlier trees, Chicago Sun-Times becomes first major American newspaper to accept Bitcoins, inventor builds actual snowboard out of paper

LOS ANGELES , April 10, 2014 () – A roundup of recent trends pitting technology against the printed word:

Trees: Scientists design trees that ease production of pulp and biofuel

While the idea of eco-friendly trees might seem redundant, scientists have designed trees that would make manufacturing tree-based products such as paper and biofuels more sustainable. The innovation lies in modifying the tree’s lignin, which must first be treated with strong chemicals before the production of pulp, paper and biofuels. Scientists at the University of British Columbia met the challenge of modifying the lignin without compromising the strength of the tree, according to a university news release on April 4. As a result, the lignin of the newly designed trees is just as strong but easier to break down, which means using fewer chemicals and less energy while reducing environmental pollution.

Tech + Trees: Chicago Sun-Times becomes first newspaper to accept Bitcoins

The Chicago Sun-Times has become the first major American newspaper to accept Bitcoin payments for subscriptions, citing its “goal to keep the Sun-Times current and evolving with changing technology,” said Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Jim Kirk, according to an April 3 company press release. In February, the newspaper had tested a 24-hour paywall that accepted Bitcoin donations, generating 713 Bitcoin donations, some from fans of the digital currency, Poynter reported April 3. The newspaper sells an annual digital subscription from US$47.88 and is working with Bitcoin wallet service Coinbase for its print and digital subscriptions, PC World reported April 4.

Trees: Inventor makes disposable paper snowboard

California-based Signal Snowboards has developed a snowboard made of 100% recycled paperboard that could actually withstand a few runs down the mountain. With the help of another California company, Ernest Packaging, Signal Snowboards founder Dave Lee combined layers of containerboard and polyurethane to strengthen and waterproof the snowboard. Afterward, Lee took his paperboard creation to the slopes, where one of his testers called the lightweight board “surfy.” The boards survived several runs, but some broke mid-way, after which users could recycle the paperboard pieces in a recycling bin.

Tech: IRS reports 91% of early tax filers went digital

This year’s early tax filers are showing an overwhelming preference for digital—91% to be exact, according to an Internal Revenue Service release on April 3. As of March 28, only 8.3 million returns were filed on paper versus 82 million returns filed electronically. IRS has projected that returns filed on paper will decline 7% year-over-year, noting that cutting down on paper processing facilitates greater efficiency for the agency. The trend is likely to continue as people are increasingly more comfortable with the security of online platforms and adopt ever more computers and mobile devices, according to Daniel Eubanks, of online tax filing platform TaxSlayer, USA Today reported April 4.

Trees: US and UK hospitals still using paper despite governments’ digital push

Despite government pressure on U.S. and U.K. hospitals to go paperless, the results have been uneven, despite billions in federal dollars earmarked for the print-to-digital shift. In the U.S., about 6% of more than 5,400 hospitals have not even taken the first step in the government’s seven-stage “electronic medical record adoption model,” Forbes reported March 29. On the other hand, roughly 37% of hospitals have made it to the final three stages of adoption. To help with that effort, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, signed into law in 2009, provides about $20 billion to transition medical care providers to electronic medical records. Meanwhile, the U.K. has earmarked £260 million (US$394 million) to phase out paper from the National Health Service and help it go digital by 2018. One legal expert doubts that goal will be reached in time. Emma Stockwell, of law firm Hill Dickinson, projected that paper will continue to be used for years, noting a lack of willingness to scan and digitize all paper records.

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