It’s a known fact that our newspapers, magazines, novels, and books use conventional paper made from trees. What is unknown is that the trees and forests that we are cutting down to make paper are important carbon sinks on earth, apart from oceans and soil. Traditional paper making therefore has a huge detrimental effect on the climate. Also, cultivating trees for paper takes away the opportunity to cultivate important food crops as the demand for food is increasing over the years.
However, with the latest technological advancements, sustainable alternatives can be used to replace forest-destructive paper made from wood pulp. Here are a few of the fiber-based and fiber-free sources of paper that have the potential of taking over the mainstream market. Although the best option for the environment is to completely avoid using paper and go digital, that isn’t always possible. Thus, it boils down to us to make the right choice to bring about change.
Few fiber-based sources of tree-free paper are:
- Fiber crops and plants: kenaf, bamboo, jute and hemp
- Agricultural by-products or residues: bagasse, husks and straw
- Textiles and cordage wastes
Fiberless sources: Calcium carbonate bound by a non-toxic resin
Known by a variety of names all over the world including, Deccan hemp and Java Jute, Kenaf is a plant that is native to Southern Asia and related to cotton. The fiber obtained from the plant is very durable and contains about 25 percent less lignin than wood fiber, thereby requiring lower energy and chemical requirements in the pulping process. In addition, Kenaf grows to 12-18 feet in 5 months compared to pine which takes 14-17 years to grow before it is harvested. Furthermore, Kenaf yields approximately 3 to 5 times more fiber per acre than pine. Because of its durable nature and better ink adherence, Kenaf paper has a wide variety of uses.
Another source of fiber for paper is bamboo. Bamboo is a renewable resource compared to traditional wood, and products made from it are easily recyclable. This grass grows 4 to 5 times faster than commercial tree species. Although bamboo pulp is not a new alternative to tree-based wood pulp, as bamboo paper has been in use in China for a millennium, it helps reduce logging of commercial wood such as fir, pine, and cottonwood. Moreover, bamboo paper doesn’t require bleaching. Hence, it requires only a few chemical products in the production process compared to traditional paper-making, which uses water, chemicals, and bleach, posing a threat to the environment. Also, bamboo paper is comparable to wood-based paper in terms of strength, brightness, and printability.
One of the most popular agriculture residues for making alternative papers is Bagasse. Bagasse is the fiber residue left after sugarcane is processed into sugar. Hence it requires no additional resources to produce it. In addition, it requires very little treatment to turn it into a durable product. Sugarcane is a rapidly renewable resource and can regrow in just 10 to 18 months. It takes about 5000 kgs of wood to produce 1000kgs of pulp and only 1500 kgs of bagasse for the same amount. This sustainable alternative is faster to renew than Bamboo and more durable than conventional paper. It contains a high percentage of cellulose which makes it a versatile material for the paper industry.
The textile and clothing industry is known for its burden on nature. Although most old textiles are reused and recycled, a certain percentage of unused textile waste is sent to the incinerators, still posing a threat to the environment.
Enter: Textilepaper, a sustainable solution to the above problem. In recent years, researchers have explored the possibility of using textile waste to manufacture this new type of paper. Although using textiles such as cotton to make paper is nothing new, the process of using the by-product generated from textile recycling to make paper is new.
A leftover stone such as limestone and marble from construction and other industries is crushed to calcium carbonate powder (80%) and bonded with a small amount of non-toxic high-density polyethylene resin (HDPE) (20 %) to create stone paper, a.k.a mineral paper or bio-plastic paper. This alternative to wood-pulp paper requires no water or acids and is powered by solar energy in the production process, thereby being environmentally sustainable. Furthermore, stone paper can be recycled back into calcium carbonate.
This bioplastic paper being durable and ink-friendly is used in stationary, magazines, packaging, and wallpapers.
Seaweed, the algae that grows on the rocky shorelines around the world, is rich in cellulose and can be used to make quality paper. An Italian seaweed paper created in the 1990s uses the damaging algae that were invading the Venice Lagoon and putting the lagoon’s fragile ecosystem at risk. Today, various initiatives are in place to explore the potential of seaweed as a green alternative to many products.