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Ethical Products Explained – 3. Paper Alternatives

This is part 3 of our Ethical Products Explained posts, where I talk about Paper Alternatives, where they come from and how they’re made. If you would like to know more about Eco Fabrics and Eco Plastics then you can follow those articles too by using the links below.

  1. Eco Plastics – you’ll be surprised whats in your clothes as well as the items you buy in your beauty and grocery shopping.
  2. Eco-friendly Materials / Fabrics – Clothing fabrics made from alternative sources.
  3. Paper & Cardboard / Alternatives – You don’t always need trees to make Paper & Cardboard…

Paper & Cardboard Alternatives

Paper & Cardboard are probably the most well known Eco / Recyclable products category on the planet, but this category will really surprise you. Its pretty easy to say that most people are aware that paper products can be Recycled and or Re-used, but once we step away from regular wood pulp products, what else is available…?

With wood pulp costs increasing, and deforestation, and forestry management regularly on the environmental agenda, there’s been a more recent push to find alternative raw ingredients and methods for creating Eco friendly paper products.

Common product names to look out for:

Post Consumer Recycled Paper – Image source

Post-Consumer Waste / Recycled
Probably the most common alternative to virgin paper.  This is made from a high percentage of those paper items that we have recycled. By recycling previously used paper products we’re not only reducing the number of trees used, but we also keep waste paper out of our landfills and save energy too.

Kenaf – image source

Similar to the cotton plant, Kenaf uses 15-25% less energy than pine to turn into a pulp. Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus L.— a member of the Hibiscus family and closely related to cotton), is traditionally an annually renewable crop reaching heights of 12 to 18 feet in approximately 4 months. Adopting a rotational system gives producers a whole 12 month cycle. Crops are planted every month in key locations and mature plants can be harvested and processed continually.

Each crop yields about 8 to 10 tonnes of dry weight per acre, this is generally about 3-5 times greater than the yield for southern pine trees, which can take up to 7 years to reach optimal harvest size.

Kenaf is certainly a “super” plant. It is able to sequester 8 times as much carbon as an acre of evergreen trees. One acre of Kenaf can absorb 10 to 20 tons of carbon during photosynthesis!

Kenaf’s short growing season and minimal water and fertilizer requirements make it among the most environmentally friendly and sustainable fibre crops on earth. Most of the mills that produce paper from wheat and other agricultural waste products are located in India, China, and other eastern hemisphere countries. Kenaf is also grown in the South Eastern United States, solely for its pulp, and it is promoted by many paper suppliers in the USA.

Bamboo – image source

Thanks to its ability to grow rapidly, bamboo produces 4 to 5 times the fibre of the fastest-growing commercial tree species. Bamboo is also becoming increasingly popular not only for paper products but also for clothing and other products too. The Chinese have been making paper from bamboo for over 1,500 years but recent demand has grown considerably as consumers look for ever more environmentally friendly products from renewable resources.

Bamboo also provides jobs and economic development in economically depressed areas where unemployment is high. On top of its ability to be used for paper products, Bamboo is also used for products including: Charcoal, Alcohol, Bed sheets, Blinds, Paint brushes, Bicycles, Cutting boards, Clothing, Fabrics, Flooring, Matting & Instruments

Agri Pulp paper – Image source

Agri Pulp makes use of Agricultural waste, along with post-consumer / recyled waste to make paper. For example Agri-pulp, made by Arbokem, is one of the smartest papers available. Not only is agri-pulp made of 45 percent agricultural waste, 43 percent post-consumer waste paper, and 12 percent calcium-carbonate filler, but it is also acid-free, totally chlorine-free processing, totally effluent-free agri-pulp manufacturing. Considering the terrible pollution created at most pulp and paper mills, agri-pulp is impressive.

Organic Cotton – image source

Organic Cotton Paper
Organically grown cotton reduces the impact of chemically treated cotton plants (Non Organic Cotton is one of the world’s most heavily pesticide using crops, using 16% of the world’s insecticides and 10% of the worlds pesticides.) Organic Cotton can also can be grown in several colours, including white,green and brown reducing the need for additional dyes during production.

Organic cotton is a cotton that is produced and certified to organic agricultural standards. Its production sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people by using natural processes rather than artificial inputs. Importantly organic cotton farming does not allow the use of toxic chemicals or GMOs (genetically modified organisms).

Cotton paper is used as an alternative to wood paper for printing documents. Cotton paper is superior in both strength and durability, compared to wood pulp-based.

Given its durability, and known to last hundreds of years without appreciable fading, discolouration, or deterioration, it is often used for archival copies of dissertations or theses, legal documents, etc. Interestingly, it is also used for banknotes in a number of countries.

Sugar Cane Paper – Image source

Paper from Sugarcane
Bagasse is the residue left after the sugar cane is crushed in the sugar factories for juice extraction. It contains about 45% cellulose, 28% pentosans, 20% lignin, 5% sugar, and 2% minerals and its high- cellulose content makes it viable as a fibrous raw material in the paper industry. Recently, paper experts have agreed that bagasse, after a proper depithing process, is an ideal raw material for manufacturing different kinds of paper, newsprint etc. The uses of bagasse in paper-making are extensive. The physical properties of the pulp mean that it is suited for generic printing papers, as well as tissue products. It is widely used for boxes and newspaper production and is also used for making boards like particle boards.  It is also considered as a good substitute for plywood.


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