Buried in Paper

The politics of paper are not as simple as they seem. E’s forthcoming May/June cover story is all about paper: how it’s produced, how it gets recycled and non-wood alternatives. But the more I looked into the paper issue, the more complicated it became.

For example, I learned that getting non-wood hemp and kenaf paper off the ground is not a relatively straightforward issue of convincing paper producers to stop cutting down trees. The big paper companies—Champion, International Paper, Weyerhaeuser—own huge tracts of forest, and if they were somehow convinced to stop harvesting wood, they’d realize some return on their investment by either clear-cutting to grow annual non-wood crops (nobody’s idea of a solution) or sell it all off for development (ditto).

While it’s undoubtedly true that millions of acres of once-productive farmland are idled every year, it’s not altogether clear how paper production could easily switch from our current cut-and-pulp system to one based on annual agriculture. We have the system we have, and paper—from raw material to production at the mill—is completely tree-based. Still, a system whereby paper is produced profitably from annual crops like hemp or kenaf on idle agricultural land would be ideal for many reasons.

Our story documents a bitter dispute between environmentalists who a) believe that the green movement should get behind non-wood fibers; or b) are equally vocal in thinking that hemp and kenaf are diversionary from the main goal of demanding more post-consumer recycled content. Both sides have good points to make, and both are regrouping after a period of relative inaction.

I"m heartened that Fiber Futures, which pushes for the use of agricultural waste in paper making, is experiencing a revival. I’m glad to see several initiatives underway to persuade book and magazine publishers to switch to recycled paper. The Green Press Initiative at www.greenpressinitiative.org has persuaded 20 U.S. book publishers to stop using fiber from ancient forests, and to maximize recycled content in three to five years. Co-op America is working with Conservatree and the Independent Press Association on the Magazine PAPER Project to convince publishers to use eco-paper. Environmental Defense is going after wasteful catalog mailers in the Alliance for Environmental Innovation. The Recycled Products Purchasing Cooperative concentrates on increasing recycled paper nationwide.

Consumers can take a stand against paper waste in a number of ways. If you’re a subscriber to a major magazine, take a look at the small but growing list of publishers who have committed to using chlorine-free paper and high post-consumer recycled content at www.ecopaperaction.org/actionsteps.html. Even glossy magazines can be printed on recycled stock now. And, of course, all magazines should be recycled.

Learn all about getting off junk mail lists through the Direct Marketing Association’s Mail Preference Service. When you register, your name is put in a delete file that is made available to mailing houses four times a year. It typically takes three months for the flow to slow down.

Another way to get off junk mail lists is by using Harman Research’s online software at www.stopthejunkmail.com. The caveat here is that this is a pay service (a year’s subscription is $20), but part of the proceeds go to American Forests.

I"m still trying to get over the statistic that more than 90 percent of mailed, full-color printed catalogs are thrown away or recycled unread. What a colossal waste!