Only with trees? Absolutely not!
You may not be responsible for the situation you are in, but you will be if you do nothing to change it.M. Luther King
Before delving into man’s incredible discoveries, it is important to know what is true and what is false when we talk about paper production. There are stories that are considered true by hearsay, such as that paper destroys forests or that paper production involves excessive water consumption. We have collected in this article the false myths that have been refuted to date (if you know others, write to us!). Not knowing justifies our negligence or our laziness in making proper separate waste collection, for example, or actions which, if repeated by many, can change the quality of life of man and the planet for the better.
But let’s get back to us. It’s not just trees that need to be used to produce paper. For example, the Egyptians made it from papyrus. And for centuries mankind has been writing on animal skins. In recent years, the industry has been going back to basics, exploring alternative fibers and the good news is that tree free paper is already trendy.
Here are some alternative materials for making paper.
In 2017, the British company Moo launched a series of business cards made from recycled old T-Shirts. Cotton extracted from disused textiles produces a particularly strong type of paper, which is used in combination with other fibers for legal documents that must last over time or in the banknotes of different countries.
Feces of herbivores
In Sri Lanka, excellent paper made with elephant feces called Elephant Dung Paper has been produced since 1997, while the US company Poopoopaper sells paper made with not only elephant feces but also cow, donkey, horse, moose and even panda feces. The feces of herbivores are rich in fibers derived from the plants and fruits on which these animals feed themselves. With a cleaning and filtering process you get a beautiful paper (completely odorless!). Some people believe that this technique could help to address the serious problem of farm animal feces management.
Fruit peels, shells and pits
Orange peels, grape tendrils, olive and fruit pits, almond shells, walnuts and peanuts… With all these products, the Italian company Favini is able to produce its “treeless” paper Crush . In general, agricultural residues that cannot be fed to animals or used to generate biomass end up being burned. But these residues are a source of fibers that several companies are using to make paper. One promising production line is the use of leftovers from the banana harvest.
Plants that aren’t trees
Bamboo paper has been made in China for a millennium and a half. From bamboo it is possible to extract a pulp that is completely analogous to that of conventional paper. This ancient technique has been turned into a business by companies such as the Canadian Caboo. Sugarcane and hemp also offer promising fibers, already used in commercial papers. An African plant from the cotton family, kenaf, is attracting particular attention. An area cultivated with kenaf produces in one year the quantity of fiber that the same area, cultivated with pine, would produce in twenty years.
(On the cards made of vegetable fiber read the story of Aliza Thomas)
Every year, coastal cities collect tons of seaweed accumulated on the beaches. This “waste” from the sea is rich in cellulose, which can be used to make good quality paper. Various initiatives, both at a research level and applied to industrial products, are exploiting this possibility. The story of an Italian paper created in the 90s, in the context of a research project that had the aim of capturing and recycling the algae that were invading the Venice lagoon, is extraordinary.
Some conventional papers contain mineral powders which make them brighter and more resistant. But there is a type of paper in which the mineral represents more than 80% of the product, mixed with a small amount of plastic resin. This stone-based paper, Paper Stone, is already widely marketed by various enterprises in high-quality products.
The Italian company Favini has put on the market an original product made from conventional recycled paper, mixed with the remains of leather production. So the circle comes full circle, returning to good old leather as a basic material for writing.