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The Planet
June 1999 Volume 6, Number 5

Try Tree-Free Paper

Each year the average American consumes more than 700 pounds of paper. Only a fraction of that comes from the national forests - those trees generally go to make lumber - but it still makes sense to reduce demand for wood products. The best way, of course, is to use less in the first place. Another is to step up our reliance on recycled or non-wood fibers. Recycling - one way to ease the strain on our national forests - has been part of the paper-production process ever since the 15th-century invention of moveable type, which launched the age of large-scale printing. More efficient book production generated a surge in demand for old rags to make paper; the rags were collected from households like the bottles, cans and newspapers of today.

And we still recycle, but as righteous as we might feel carrying our clinking bottles and rustling papers down to the curb, we're not doing enough.

Recycling has gotten a good start, the next step is to demand alternatives to wood pulp. The more we support tree-free paper pioneers, the faster paper-making companies large and small will hustle to respond with research, investment . . . and products.

So what do we ask for? Here's a partial list of materials that are currently being used to make more ecologically sound papers:

Straw: Leftover stalks and stems from rice, wheat and corn fields can be converted into paper at low cost while offering farmers a small increase in revenue at the same time.

Sugar Cane: Bagasse, the crushed outer stalk material of the sugar cane, is a practical nonwood fiber. Kimberly-Clark uses bagasse for materials such as paper towels and tissues; it is being used to make writing and printing paper as well.

Flax: One of the first crops cultivated for fiber production, it's still used for linen and other products like airmail papers. It's abundant and cheap.

Kenaf: Related to cotton and to okra, kenaf grows a dozen feet tall and converts easily to pulp. But cuts in government funding for research and a resistant pulp and paper industry stand in its way.

Industrial Hemp: Prior to a smear campaign that linked the plant to its scruffier and more psycho-active cousin marijuana, hemp was used as livestock feed, oil, cloth, rope and paper. Some research and production of hemp is legal in a handful of states, but it still faces a slew of regulatory issues; currently the main sources are overseas.

Other potential sources for paper fiber include bamboo, cotton and banana stems. Next time you're sending something out to be printed, ask if your printer offers any tree-free papers. Or make sure that the post-consumer content of the paper is as high as possible.You can also ask about paper made from trees that have been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as sustainably harvested.

For an up-to-date report on nonwood papers, supplier contact information and a collection of paper swatches, order "The Simple Guide to Tree-Free, Recycled and Certified Papers 1999," by Dan Imhoff;; P.O. Box 37 Philo, Calif., 95466; (707) 895-3490; $15 (includes tax, postage, and handling). - Sarah Fallon

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