21 September 2010

Tonight we will be talking about the greening of the paper industry, the attempts environmental and industry groups are making to cut down on pollution within the industry and to cut down on the amount of paper we use in business and our personal lives. We’ll talk first with Shannon Binns of the Green Press Initiative and then with Pam Blackledge of the Environmental Paper Network.

Listen to the program.

Background on Paper Pollution

To give us some background on the paper industry, we’ll read some information prepared by Halimah Collingwood of the Mainstream Media Project in Arcata, a group that makes people available for interviews on key environmental and political topics.  Halimah arranged our interviews tonight with Shannon Binns and Pam Blackledge.  Halimah’s background piece is entitled, Turning Over a New Sheaf in the Paper Industry.

The pressure is on at every level of the paper supply chain to create more sustainable business practices, from pulp mills and paper manufacturers, down to big-box and local office supply stores. Through the dedication of organizations such as the Environmental Paper Network (representing 100+ organizations focused on accelerating social and environmental transformation in the pulp and paper industry) some real progress is being made.  However, while Staples’ Copy Centers made the switch to 50 and 100% post-consumer paper as a standard offering, many other companies are guilty of “greenwashing” by marketing an eco-friendly appearance without addressing their environmentally damaging practices.

 Successes and Setbabks in the Greening of Paper Manufacturing [include the handling of] Black liquor –a byproduct of the paper manufacturing process– [which] has been burned to power paper manufacturing plants for the last 75 years. In 2009, paper companies who use the viscous substance, in a mix with diesel fuel, pounced on a 50 cent-per-gallon tax credit that was meant to stimulate innovations in biofuels. Rather than develop something new and sustainable, the paper industry found a way to cash in on a practice they had been doing for decades. Now the IRS is allowing paper companies to amend their 2009 tax returns to take advantage of $1.01-per-gallon credit previously intended for vehicle fuels. The $6 billion in tax credit that the paper industry has already received could, by some estimates, become $25 billion of additional tax benefits over the remaining time period that Congress never intended.

Meanwhile, paper manufacturers in Canada are given incentives from their government to “green up” the manufacturing process in order to stay competitive with their American counterparts receiving the IRS credit. The “Wheat Sheet,” a wheat straw-based paper has been developed in a partnership between Canadian researchers, printers, manufacturers, and magazine publishers, and is the first coated magazine paper made from agricultural waste in North America. Around the world, straw-based paper manufacturing can be found as a standard practice.

And from the website of the Green Paper Initiative, comes this description of the environmental dangers of the paper industry:The entire paper industry, when accounting for forest carbon loss, emits nearly 750 million tons of C02 equivalent annually – nearly 10% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. This is equivalent to the annual emissions of over 136 million cars. The U.S. book and newspaper industries combined require the harvest of 125 million trees each year and emit over 40 million metric tons of CO2 annually; equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of 7.3 million cars.


Each year the U.S book industry uses approximately 30 million trees, and the U.S. newspaper industry consumes 95 million trees. Many of these trees are from old growth and endangered forests, and the demand for paper is encouraging the practice of converting natural forests into single species tree plantations that support only a fraction of the biodiversity.

The paper industry is the fourth largest industrial source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and books and newspapers release greenhouse gases thought their lifecycles. Globally, scientist estimate that deforestation is responsible for 25% of human caused greenhouse gases. When trees are cut to make paper, not only do they cease to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, but greenhouse gases are released to the atmosphere when plant material not used makes paper decays or is burned as a source of power at the mill. As a result of these emissions and those associated with soil disturbances at the site of harvest, even  trees are replanted, it can take up to 25 years for a newly planted forest to stop being a net emitter of greenhouse gases, and hundreds of years before they store the same amount of carbon as an undisturbed forest.

In Canada, Indonesia, Brazil and many other countries throughout the world, people who rely on forests for their livelihood have been severely impacted by the paper industry.  From the destruction of forests needed to survive to some being forced from their land, the paper industry has disrupted the way of life for these communities.

Miscellaneous Paper Facts

No doubt you know of the evolution of paper from Egyptian papyrus.  But many of the problems associated with paper pollution come about after the industrial revolution.  Here from www.historyforkids.org are a few facts about how machines made paper and paper products easy and cheap.

Newsprint  Charles Fenerty of Halifax made the first newsprint in 1838. He was helping a local paper mill maintain an adequate supply of rags to make paper, when he succeeded in making paper from wood pulp. He neglected to patent his invention and others did patent papermaking processes based on wood fiber.

Corrugated Papermaking – Cardboard

In 1856, Englishmen, Healey and Allen, received a patent for the first corrugated or pleated paper. The paper was used to line men’s tall hats.

American, Robert Gair promptly invented the corrugated cardboard box in 1870. These were pre-cut flat pieces manufactured in bulk that opened up and folded into boxes.

On December 20, 1871, Albert Jones of New York NY, patented a stronger corrugated paper (cardboard) used as a shipping material for bottles and glass lanterns.

In 1874, G. Smyth built the first single sided corrugated board-making machine. Also in 1874, Oliver Long improved upon the Jones patent and invented a lined corrugated cardboard.

Paper Bags

The first recorded historical reference to grocery paper bags was made in 1630. The use of paper sacks only really started to take off during the Industrial Revolution: between 1700 and 1800.

Margaret Knight (1838-1914) was an employee in a paper bag factory when she invented a new machine part to make square bottoms for paper bags. Paper bags had been more like envelopes before. Knight can be considered the mother of the grocery bag, she founded the Eastern Paper Bag Company in 1870.

On February 20, 1872, Luther Crowell also patented a machine that manufactured paper bags.

Paper Plates

Paper foodservice disposables products were first made at the beginning of the 20th century. The paper plate was the first single-use foodservice product invented in 1904.

Dixie Cups

Hugh Moore was an inventor who owned a paper cup factory, located next door to the Dixie Doll Company. The word Dixie was printed on the doll company’s front door. Moore saw the word every day, which reminded him of “dixies,” the ten dollar bank notes from a New Orleans’ bank that had the French word “dix’ printed on the face of the bill. The bank had a great reputation in the early 1800s. Moore decided that “dixies” was a great name. After getting permission from his neighbor to use the name, he renamed his paper cups “Dixie Cups”. It should be mentioned that Moore’s paper cups first invented in 1908 were originally called health cups and replaced the single repeat-use metal cup that had been used with water fountains. 


Our Questions for Shannon Binns

 Shannon Binns is Program Manager for the Green Press Initiative.  Shannon has also served on Nature Conservancy team that worked with Congress to develop science-based climate change legislation and organized the Earth Institute Global Roundtable on Climate Change. 

  • Please tell us a little about the Green Press Initiative.  What are its goals and major projects? (Where does your funding come from?)
  • We were interested to see that your educational background includes work in Industrial Engineering and in administration of Environmental Science and Policy.  Please tell us how these fields merge in your work.
  • Earlier in the program, we read a brief description of “Black Liquor” being used to fuel paper plants.  Could you tell us more about this and what GPI and the industry are doing to control it?
  • We learned from your site that the paper industry is the fourth largest producer of industrial greenhouse gases, and that deforestation creates as much as a quarter of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.  How is GPI working on these interlocking problems?
  • You’ve worked with the Forest Stewardship Council, which has certification standards for paper manufacturers.  Could you tell us about that process? What percentage of paper manufacturers have or are seeking FSC certification?
  • What is the Lacey Act and how does it work?
  • One of the goals of the Green Press Initiative is to reduce impact on indigenous communities. What are your projects and accomplishments in this area?
  • In closing, can you suggest other ways in which our listeners can become better informed about the issues we’ve discussed tonight?

The Green Press Initiative is online at http://www.greenpressinitiative.org.

Our Discussion with Pam Blackledge

Pam Blackledge is RePaper Project Coordinator for the Environmental Paper Network. She has degrees in Fisheries and Wildlife Biology and in Environmental Studies, and she has spent the last fifteen years working on a range of environmental and social issues. 

  • Let’s start with the work you do now.  What is the Environmental Paper Network and its RePaper Project? (Who are some of the major sponsors and funders of your project?)
  • We’re greatly impressed by the list of member organizations listed on your website, http://www.environmentalpaper.org/ –by rough count seventy from all over the world. How do members contribute to or gain from your project?
  • What is their/your Common Vision?
  • We’d really like to go into detail about the RePaper project so our listeners can learn how best to cut down on paper pollution.
    • Please tell us about “What’s in your paper” [whatsinyour paper.com] and “The Paper Steps.”
    • Can you give us some examples of how businesses have cut down on office paper and packaging?
    • Your web site mentions “tissue” as a big polluter.  What kind of tissue? How can we reduce its use?
    • Junk mail.  How much is there and how can we get rid of it?
    • Electronics—Are computers (and attached printers), cell phones, text messaging, twitter, etc. cutting down on paper use?  What about Kindle and other paperless readers?
  • How can individuals best get their used paper into the recycling stream?
  • We didn’t see anything about composting on your site—is composting a legitimate form of paper recycling?
  • When you buy paper, either blank or in magazines and newspapers, how can you tell whether it comes from a green source?  How can you tell if you are being greenwashed?
  • As we close, please tell our listeners about where they can go to learn more about (especially) individual paper use.

 The RePaper Project.  [http://www.environmentalpaper.org/]