Alternatives to Forest-destructive Paper
Numerous guides exist to help with finding alternatives to paper made from forests, so rather than duplicate those, here you will find an overview of some alternatives, some links to companies providing alternatives and links to some of the other resources available.
As mentioned in the last section, the first step in reducing one's impact on forests with regards to paper is to use less of it.
However, there are some products typically made from paper that are challenging to do without. So for those, it's best to use alternatives to virgin tree-paper.
Recycled paper is an excellent alternative to virgin paper. It's important to understand what's meant by "recycled". Most people assume that if something is marked "recycled" it means that it's been used by the consumer and put back into the manufacturing stream. Unfortunately, that's not always the case. This is only true if the paper product says "post-consumer" recycled content. "Pre-consumer" recycled can mean that the fiber was collected from trimmings at the paper mill or from rolls that never made it out of the mill. Paper mills have always done this for decades (it only makes sense) but convinced the government to allow this to be called "recycled". Pre-consumer recycling isn't reducing the demand for more forest destruction.
Look for products labeled as having the highest "post-consumer" content you can find.
Agricultural Residue Papers
Paper has only been made from trees in the US for about 150 years. Prior to that, paper was made from various kinds of plant materials, such as cotton, hemp and others. In fact, the United States Constitution is printed on paper made from hemp. In years past, hemp was grown for the seeds, which were used to make high-quality food and industrial oil. The stalk was then used to make paper.
Cotton has been used to make paper for hundreds of years. Some of the highest quality papers available on the market today still have what's called "rag" content, meaning cotton content. Crane still makes many papers made using some percentage of cotton.
One important aspect of paper made from plant fibers is to make sure that the paper is made from residue fibers, rather than made from crops grown specifically for paper. Already, too much of the world's wild areas have been converted to agriculture. Encouraging more crops for industrial uses like paper and fuel will only increase the pressure to clear more forests, as well as allowing much of the heavily-used agricultural land to be abandoned.
Instead, using residues from crops grown for food can help revitalize farms by giving farmers a second income from their crops. Most of the residues from many of the monoculture crops grown in the US are either burned or landfilled. Some is plowed under but it's estimated that less than 50% of the crop residue is needed to maintain soil health. The other 50% is too much if plowed in and can slow productivity. That's why many farmers burn the stalks or cut them and dump them.
Most of the residues are in the form of stalks but other parts of the plants (such as the linters of cotton) can make excellent paper as well.
Rice straw, wheat straw, corn stovers (stalks), bagasse (sugar cane waste left after the cane is crushed for the juice) and cotton linters are some of the more common crop residues that can readily be made into paper.
Many other countries are using agricultural residue (ag-res) for paper, such as China, Brazil, Thailand and others. Agricultural residue is the fastest growing sector of the paper industry around the world. But in the US ag-res use is hardly growing at all and makes up less than 1% of paper production.
Encouraging companies to use more ag-res fibers in paper is an important step in reducing the demand on cutting forests.
Use recycled paper. Companies such as Living Tree Paper and even Xerox now make 100% post-consumer recycled paper and it's even carried at Staples. Or, you can support smaller companies who've been setting the bar for years, by ordering directly from Treecycle.
You can create your own notebooks and pads by using used-one-sided paper and binding them together either at a printer or using a 3-hole punch and 3-ring binder. Or, if you'd like to skip the work, you can get really cool, all-reused notebooks made by University of Michigan EnAct students from paper collected across the campus. The pages are one-sided, made from used paper and the covers are made from cereal boxes from the cafeterias! So cool!. Click here to find out more and to order.
Or use recylced paper. Treecycle has notebooks but they're only 20% post-consumer (PCW) recycled. Their pads are 100% PCW.
Vickerey carries recycled notebooks, sold as a set of 10. There's no indication of the amount of post-consumer waste (PCW).
Bathroom Tissue, Facial Tissue, Paper Towels, Napkins
Of course, all of these paper products are relatively new and their reusable counterparts existed long before disposable paper was available.
Handkerchiefs are still available and make an excellent alternative to paper. As well, sponges and rags are great for cleaning up messes. Cloth napkins don't kill forests and will last a lifetime.
Paper plates are not a necessity and certainly, using them at home just doesn't make sense.
But we know, sometimes, at the picnic, party or in the bathroom, disposable paper products are just too convenient to pass up. In those cases, here's some help in finding products that are less destructive to the planet.
There are a number of companies that make disposable paper products from recycled paper. The largest in the northeast US is Marcal. Marcal paper products are available in most supermarkets and many small markets in the northeast US. Not only is it made from post-consumer waste paper but it's also usually the least expensive such product in the store.
Marcal also sells their tissue products and napkins to industrial wholesalers and distributors, so you can encourage your favorite restaurants and businesses to ask their distributors for Marcal products.
While Marcal packaging may state a certain post-consumer content, Marcal is good enough to post the actual PCW content of their products. Check their table for up-to-date percentages.
We've toured Marcal's factory and we really like this company. They've set the standard for recycling for making tissue products, since they've been doing it longer than almost any company in the country. They've innovated using milk cartons and recycling kaolin clay from glossy paper. Marcal uses about 50% of the junk mail recycled in New Jersey.
Seventh Generation also makes bathroom tissue, facial tissue and paper towels made from 100% recycled paper, with a minimum of 80% PCW. They even have paper plates!
Vickerey, mentioned above, also has journals made from paper handmade in Tibet, from the bark of the "Lokta" bush, which is a totally renewable resource.
It's important to extend one's commitment beyond the home. When getting that job printed at work, seek out printers that use reycled or ag-res paper, and lower-impact inks.
One such printer is Greg Barber Company. Greg Barber, located in New Jersey, can use high post-consumer waste paper and even has paper available with agricultural residue content.
Finding recycled newsprint isn't easy, if you're simply buying a newpaper from the corner grocer. But it's good to know that many of the nation's newspapers incorporate some recycled content in their papers. Back in the early 1990s, the threat of federal or local legislation — pushed by the National Council of Mayors — prompted the industry to adopt voluntary guidelines for using some recycled paper.
In the Northeast US, much of this recycled newprint came from Garden State Paper, based in Garfield, NJ, one of the largest and probably the longest-running manufacturer of recycled newprint in the US.
Last we checked, 18% of The New York Times was printed on Garden State's 100% recycled paper (the other 82% was printed on virgin paper coming from the eastern boreal forests of Canada).
But, unfortunately, the collapse of Enron meant the bankruptcy of Garden State, since Enron had purchased the company from Media General Corporation in 2000. Media General had purchased Garden State in 1970.
During and since all those developments, SP Newsprint Company has emerged as the largest producer of recycled newsprint in North America. SP was started as joint venture with Garden State and Media General and later joined by Knight Ridder, a major newspaper company.
It's best to ask your particular newspaper how much of the paper is printed on recycled content paper and what percentage of that paper is post-consumer. The more people that ask this question, the more likely the newspaper company will take this issue seriously.
The Paper Chase, Jim Motavalli, E Magazine
This is a really good article that highlights the use of non-wood fibers for paper. However, Rainforest Relief does not promote the use of fibers grown specifically for paper (such as kenaf and often hemp) but instead promotes the use of residues from existing agricultural crops (bagasse — sugar cane waste — and rice stems, for instance).
Copyright 2006 Rainforest Relief