Sustainable Sources versus Recycled Paper

We print the words “Paper from sustainable forest sources” on every card but the truth is there is no paper produced here in Europe or the States that is not produced from sustainable sources. Legislation is so tight that there is no paper, no books, no magazines, no pizza boxes or greeting cards manufactured in the UK that aren't from sustainable sources.

Very importantly, at the other end of the eco-spectrum, our cards are fully recyclable because they haven't been produced using chlorine or other environmentally harmful chemicals or adhesives.

In the developing countries of the world, it is possible to drive through a thousand acres of smouldering stubble, where within a week, giant and ancient forests of wild diversity and great natural beauty have been sacrificed for commercial profit. Where once a 1,000 species of trees and plants had grown for hundreds of years there will soon be one, non-native species grown solely to provide virgin tree pulp for the paper industry. It is deeply depressing.

The non-emotive argument against this type of intensive forestry is that it supports no dead or dying trees which are a feature of mature mixed forests. Without decomposition there is not the soil fertility necessary to support fungi, lichen and insects and therefore no food for birds and no nesting holes in old trees to encourage breeding.

The counter argument is that sustainable forests and plantations are managed to strict environmental and social criteria. More trees are planted than are cut down and environmental agencies are working to improve further the sustainability by introducing mixed-wood farming. A mix of deciduous and pine trees creates a greater bio-diversity, looks better and offers greater hope for the regeneration of the forest floor once the wood has been harvested. On the face of it, the acres of pine trees planted in dense and serried rows so familiar throughout Scotland, offer a sterile and inhospitable environment. But it is also a fact that eagles, buzzards and ravens nest in them and deer disappear into their protective camouflage, and pine martens, wild cats and red squirrels positively prefer them. And we are told that there are some perfectly sound environmentally sustainable ways to regenerate involving pine needle munching caterpillars which are introduced to the woodland floor to chomp their way through acidic, indigestible, difficult to compost pine needles with the result that birds arrive to feed on the caterpillars and in turn the collective droppings fertilise the sterile forest floor, the birds carry in seeds which in turn germinate and the insects arrive to pollinate the flowers and so on…

Recycled board for cards is less likely to be chlorine free than virgin pulp which is predominantly chlorine free. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), dioxin, the most toxic of all cancer-linked chemicals, is a by-product of bleaching paper. To obtain the desired 'whiteness' comparable to premium quality board from virgin pulp, chlorine and chlorine derivatives may be used to bleach the recycled pulp. The resulting dioxins and other toxins and pollutants are associated with adverse affects on humans as well as fish and wildlife species. Even in the smallest detectable quantities, dioxin has been known to cause liver disease, immune system suppression and gestatory and reproductive damage in land animals.

Recycled paper is subjected to intensive processing before being repulped: screening, cleaning, washing, de-inking and removal of finishes, glues and other contaminants to extract the cellulose fibre. Post consumer waste is of lower quality due to this multiple processing and is therefore less consistent in appearance and strength. And different chemicals are needed to remove "stickies" of myriad types, from Post-it-note-tackiness to lumps of silicone glue. Reprocessing of this material uses a lot of energy: transportation, storage and repulping. And the irony of it is that The EPA requires a minimum of only 30% post consumer content, ie 70% can be virgin wood pulp, and still be labelled as ‘recycled’!

Another aspect of the paper recycling industry is that the sorting of paper waste is often carried out in 3rd world countries where issues of slavery and sustainable wages introduce other grim spanners into the toolbox.

In Britain we use the equivalent of 33,000 sheets of A4 paper per year - each! The packaging industry uses the lion’s share of this so if you feel strongly about wasting paper, lobby your supermarket about new thinking on packaging. Ask why toothpaste tubes come in boxes?

One area looking very exciting is the development of non wood papers, incorporating agricultural residues. In other words, by-products of farming: hemp, flax, wheat, and corn. All exciting developments for the future which we will watch with interest and respond to with enthusiasm.

On balance, we feel that maybe washing the world with chemicals with the inevitable yet to be discovered implications for the future of our planet instinctively feels more terrible and more potentially disastrous than sustainable forestry.

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