Finding Fibers

Beyond agricultural waste, hemp, kenaf and other well-known fibers, there are a host of other raw materials that show considerable promise as non-wood resources. Flax, for example, receives six mentions in the Bible, and is the basis for linen production. Long-fiber linen rags, cuttings and threads have been used as the feedstock for paper making for 2,000 years. Linseed oil flax has been used in the manufacture of cigarette and other high-quality papers. The tear and tensile strength of flax pulp is superior to wood pulp, according to Carolyn Moran of Living Tree Paper, which offers coated and uncoated papers that mix chlorine-free flax straw and hemp with post-consumer waste fibers.

Some other useful fibers that could be used to make paper include:

" Bagasse. The fiber residue from sugar cane production that is readily available in Latin America and already used in some U.S. papers.

"Abaca or Manila Hemp. A leaf fiber and a member of the banana family, abaca makes an extremely strong pulp. It has potential for use in paper currency, and is also used in the making of Japanese screens and tea bags.

" Arundo Donax. A short perennial grass used to make measuring rods, walking sticks, fishing poles and musical instruments. It’s also a good fiber for paper, and has been chipped for use in existing paper mills without any retrofitting necessary.

"Ramie. A member of the nettle family, this tropical Asia native has strong potential as both a textile and paper fiber.

"Esparto Grass. This fiber is grown from southern Spain to northern Africa and is used for book and specialty paper. Esparto has an especially high fiber density. Among its cultivators are nomadic Bedouin women, whose harvesting preserves the plants" roots. Camels are used to transport the fiber, which is left to dry in the sun for six months before it is used.

"Hesperaloe. The leaves contain fiber cells that are both longer and narrower than those of sisal, and compare favorably with wood and non-wood fiber species for specialty paper applications.