Weird tree-free paper alternatives
By Rachel England Wednesday 14 August 2013
We get through a lot of paper in the UK – 12.5 million tonnes every year, in fact, and the average family throws away six trees’ worth of paper annually. But we’re making good progress with recycling, with two-thirds of all the paper used being given a new lease of life (read more about paper recycling here).
To reduce our reliance on trees, though, clever boffins around the world are investigating ‘tree-free’ alternatives; paper that comes from more sustainable or eco-friendly sources. Some of them make a lot of sense, but some of them, as you’ll see here, are just plain strange!
Yep, you read that right, paper made from poo. What started as a novelty item has swiftly become a big player in the world of tree-free paper. Elephants, sheep, reindeer, horses and even pandas are unknowingly doing their bit for the environment by producing waste that is then turned into good quality paper items. How? The poo is collected then completely sterilized by boiling it at very high temperatures, before being washed (we’d hope so!) continuously over a period of days. What’s left is a big pile of fibres which is beaten into a pulp suitable for making sheets of paper. You don’t get much more sustainable than that!
You might be used to seeing graffiti scrawled on cliff faces and walls, but did you know you could just as easily be writing a thank you note or a shopping list on a rock? Not in its normal form, of course, but rock paper is a new concept that completely does away with the need for trees in paper manufacture. Also known as TerraSkin, rock paper combines crushed up minerals and a small amount of non-toxic resin to create a versatile paper than requires 30% less ink to print on than tree-based paper. And even better, over time it simply disintegrates into dust.
Did you know that up until 1883 around 80% of all the paper in the world was made with hemp? The US Constitution was even drafted on it before being copied onto parchment! Hemp is quickly becoming a solid tree-free paper choice thanks to its top-notch sustainability credentials. Not only is hemp paper stronger than tree paper (thanks to a higher level of cellulose – 85% compared to just 30%), it doesn't require any bleaching, and one acre of hemp can produce as much paper four to ten acres of trees over a 20 year period. Plus, hemp stalks take only four months to mature, compared to up to 80 years for trees.
Good for your health and the environment, bananas are one of Costa Rica’s main exports, so it’s no surprise this artistic paper alternative originated there. In this instance, husks from banana (and sometimes pineapple – there’s another one of your five a day!) are ground down into sawdust, then added to fibres from recycled tree paper, thus reducing the amount of tree paper needed to make new paper in the recycling process. If only it smelled as good as it sounds!
The Chinese have been making paper out of bamboo for over 1,500 years, but demand in the west has grown considerably in line with environmental pressures. Some bamboo species can grow by a metre a day, so the plant makes for a very sustainable paper source indeed. Plus, it thrives in poor soil conditions, actually helping to return nutrients to the soil, so it’s very popular in environmentally stressed areas that have been affected by deforestation.