In Australia, the fledgling wood-free paper industry does not yet present a threat to the forestry and paper industries, although the U.N. estimates it represents more than one-third of paper production in developing countries.
Also, only relatively small amounts of post-consumer (wood pulp) paper are recovered for recycling. Most of our recycled papers don't average more than about 20% post-consumer waste content anyway leaving the way clear for virgin fibre wood pulp paper for some time to come.
Yet, there is enormous scope for a wood-free paper industry in Australia. Given the vast amounts of wheat, rice, cotton, bananas, sugar cane, etc, grown here, and the amounts of cotton waste generated by the clothing industry, there exists a ready fibre source for 'tree-free paper' to make its presence felt on the market. As always, cost will be a major factor, given the enormous economies of scale achieved by the huge wood pulp paper mills in southern states. Some wood-free papers such as Kenaf offer superior quantity, quality, versatility and recyclability to paper made from wood fibre, however. High quality wheatstraw paper is retailing in North America for a competitive $US5 per ream.
Opinion in the U.S. is that wood-free paper does not and should not replace post-consumer waste paper. But most wood-free papers manufactured elsewhere in the world are, in any case, a blend of natural fibers and post-consumer waste or agricultural waste and ideal mix for minimising the need for virgin wood pulp paper...
Contents at a Glance...
PAPERMAKING WITHOUT WOOD PULP
THERE'S NOTHING NEW ABOUT WOOD-FREE PAPER
Humans have relied on herbaceous plants for paper stock for thousands of years. Papyrus, an Egyptian reed, gave us the word 'paper'. Wood has been the primary paper fibre for less than a century. Paper pulp demand is one of the main reasons for the destruction of forests worldwide. Today, two out of every five trees are cut for pulp.
It takes a heavy-duty industrial process to turn wood into paper. The process releases large amounts of dangerous pollutants, such as chlorine, dioxin and furans into the air and water. As forests diminish and public opinion to save forests grows, there is increasing interest in alternative fibre crops.
Hundreds of annuals and herbaceous perennials can be used for paper stock, either alone or in combination with other feedstocks. Processing requires less energy and produces far less toxic wastes than wood pulp plants. In addition, facilities do not have to be so large. If our paper pulp needs could be met with herbaceous perennial and annual crops, we would lower energy consumption, save our forests, reduce toxic waste, decentralize paper production and add more crops for farmers.
If sustainable agriculture were applied on a broad scale using permaculture practices, we could increase world food supplies and do it on less land. This would free up large amounts of farmland, some of which could be used for growing paper feedstocks. The hemp 2 plant is one of the prime candidates for paper feedstock. Hemp produces high yields and large amounts of high-quality fibre per acre, which is why it was (and still is in some countries) grown on a large scale for rope and other fibre-uses. In fact, hemp makes the best grades of canvas 3. Varieties have been bred for high fibre production and low THC production.
Hemp, however, is just one plant of dozens and even hundreds of species of herbaceous plants which can yield paper pulp. There are several advantages perennial herbaceous plants have over hemp (and other annual species).
For example, there is less need to till and cultivate the soil. Perennials only need to be replanted occasionally (3-10 years, depending on species and management). Tillage and cultivation requires tractors, implements and fuel. Of course, we could grow and produce fuel from hemp seeds since it works fine in diesel engines.
Furthermore, it takes extra care with cropping annual plants to keep the soil in good tilth with a high organic matter content. Hemp fields need to be rotated with soil-building crops to maintain soil quality. Herbaceous perennials, on the other hand, generally build soils rather than deplete them.
Some of the highest-producing biomass plants come from wet lowland areas. Examples are papyrus, cattails, rushes, water hyacinth, etc. Wetlands have some of the highest nutrient loads in the landscape plus lots of water. High biomass yields from wetland species are not surprising, given these conditions. Special equipment would be needed to carry out harvests in moist habitats, however.
Presently under-utilized crop wastes could support a large paper industry without even putting new land into production. For example, large amounts of grass straw 4 are burned every year in Washington and Oregon by seed producers. Paper production is one possibility being looked into by the grass seed industry for alternative uses of the waste straw.
There has been a notable increase in the market for hand-made paper, mainly used for arts and crafts and which is high-priced. Produced domestically and imported from an increasing number of other countries, there is opportunity for larger employment in the US and abroad to supply this growing market.
In the future, we might see thousands of plant species used for craft papermaking, the bulk of mass-produced paper supplies by several dozen species of herbaceous plants. Big paper factories would be replaced by many medium- and small-scale producers scattered across the landscape. The trees like this scenario!
Temora NSW farmer-environmentalist Ian Thompson has begun a small business making paper from either cereal straw or pin rushes. Ian reduces the grasses to a pulp and presses them into paper to produce quality business cards and wedding invites.
He says, "I'm doing it as a business and also to carry an environmental message. I like working with the pin rushes best - they don't have the nodes and knots of cereal straw.
His property is also a declared sanctuary in order to deter shooters and non-conservation minded people 7.
The Costa Rica Natural Paper Company with its partner the major central American paper manufacturer The Simam Group, has formed the Costa Rica Natural Paper Company, which produces 100 percent recycled paper made from 95% post-consumer paper fibre and 5% banana stalks. College students grow, harvest and process the banana stalks. The end products include recycled staionery, notepads, journals, cards, boxes, art supplies and envelopes. There is no residual banana smell, but the texture is smooth and appearance very attractive. The high quality office papers can be used in printers and copiers.quality.
- E Magazine, Feb '97.
1. Michael Pilarski is the author of Restoration Forestry - an International Guide, and Restoration Forestry in Australia. See also Restoration Forestry.
2. The American Farm Bureau Federation, the largest farming organisaion in the US, passed a unanimous resolution in January '96 to "encourage research into the viability and economic potential of industrial hemp production in the US". This includes "planting test plots... using modern agricultural techniques". See also Hemp Organisations, and Books, Hemp.
3. Canvas' derives from the Latin word 'cannabis' which translates as 'hemp'. Hemp was the traditional fibre for fabric in sails, tarpaulins, tents, parachutes, etc, although flax and cotton-derived fabrics are also considered to be 'canvases'.
4. NSW rice farmers alone burn 600,000 metric tonnes of rice straw each year! See Straw Bale Building in Australia.
5. For sources of tree-free paper, see Non Timber Paper listings in the Directory.
6. From Forests and Jobs , by Gini Stanley - see Books, Ethical Timber.
7. From Trees By The Million - Greening Australia newsletter. See Bush Regeneration Groups, Non Profit, in the Directory.