Over twenty-nine million; that is the number of trees estimated by the United Nations to be cut down in a single day on the Earth. In the United States, about half of the lumber cut down is used to produce paper. Of all the paper produced in the United States, only about one percent is made of materials other than tree pulp. Processing trees into paper takes an enormous amount of energy, water, and chemicals. It is a wonder that this is called the electronic age when a third of the waste in our landfills is still paper. Recycling measures are helping to save the trees, but the processes still use high amounts of energy, water, and bleach. Reforestation efforts are helping to save the tree population, but still take 10 to 20 years to replace a tree that has been cut down. Now, new processes are being tried to replace tree pulp paper with other substances and production methods; let’s look at a few.
Bamboo, More Than Just Panda Food
Bamboo is tree-like grass that takes only three to five years to reach maturity. This grass has been used for centuries to create wooden furniture, flooring, and now paper. One company, Smock, states that bamboo paper is better than even the finest cotton paper. With Bamboo having natural anti-fungal and anti-bacterial features, bamboo paper lends itself to being used for archival items. The bamboo plant collects more carbon dioxide than some trees and in turn releases more oxygen. Less water is used to produce bamboo paper than in the regular tree pulp process. Bamboo appears to be the most likely material to be able to produce printing paper on a large scale.
One Lump or Two
Sugar Cane is one of the most common alternatives to tree pulp from paper. When sugar cane is processed to produce sugar the remaining plant is turned into a byproduct called bagasse. By using bagasse in paper, this byproduct is recycled instead of wasted. The Sugar Cane Paper Company, Inc. says that they are able to produce paper by using an elemental chlorine free bleaching process. Sugar Cane products can replace many tree pulp made products including toilet paper, napkins, and lunch containers. However, this company’s website does not list printer paper as a product… yet.
Let’s Get Exotic Paper is normally made from trees smashed into pulp. So, if other items could be smashed into a pulp, pretty much anything could be used to make paper. That is exactly the line of thinking a company called Mr. Ellie Pooh has done by making use of elephant dung. The elephant has already done the hard process of taking vegetation and creating a pulp. The company then cleans the dung and removes the pulverized plants to create a very unique paper product. The paper is more coarse making it perfect for stationary, cards, and scrapbooking, though not a good printing paper. China has taken inspiration and word is that panda poo paper is now in the works.
Rock, Paper, Scissors
As children playing the old time favorite of rock, paper, scissors, it was unimaginable that one day rock paper would actually mean printable paper from stones. That is just what the brainchild company TerraSkin has produced. The company calls it “The New Stone Age, with a little help from technology.” What they have done is found a way to combine three quarters of ground stone dust with a quarter of a non-toxic resin to create a very usable paper. This paper is water resistant, and can be used for bags, product wrapping, posters, and printing paper. Since the paper is mostly stone, less ink is needed to print upon it. As long as the paper is stored indoors, out of ultraviolet light, it can last inevitably. If left exposed to the outdoor elements it can completely degrade back to dust in three to four months time. Since non-toxic glue is used to make the paper, absolutely no water is needed for the process. Rock paper is a new player to the green game and may take the lead as a superstar.
Keep the Trees Where They Belong There is hope that many of these alternative papers will take hold and catch on in the industry, but of course, there will be resistance from the lumber companies. Just as change for alternative fuel resources is taking hold, changing what is used to make paper has the potential to grow as well. Forests help remove millions of pounds of carbon dioxide from our atmosphere, and if the removal of these trees is not slowed down soon, global climate change will simply continue to accelerate. Saving a tree is not just a tree hugger’s job anymore, everyone needs to give a hand, and in this situation, to purchase a case of paper not made from trees.