Going beyond recycling
Publication Date: Wednesday Apr 23, 1997

Going beyond recycling

'Tree-free' papers combine used paper with alternative materials

by Elisabeth Traugott

On a recent stroll through downtown Palo Alto, Justine Cooper, the volunteer coordinator for Bay Area Action, was surprised to see there was a printing and copy shop on University Avenue that offers "tree-free" paper. Until then, she figured groups like Bay Area Action, a Palo Alto-based environmentalist group, were the only ones promoting it.

But this newest generation of papers, made with alternatives to virgin tree pulp like post-consumer waste (recycled paper that has been used by a consumer as opposed to overruns from the mill), hemp (which cannot yet be grown legally in the United States), kenaf (a fast-growing annual) and agricultural by-products from rice and wheat production are cropping up all over.

Environmentalists say these are alternatives to timber logging, which threatens North American forests. By some estimates, one tree per American, about 272 million, are cut down each year to produce newspapers and magazines alone. And while electronic mail and the Internet are innovative, paper-free ways to communicate, paper needs are expected to double in the next 15 years according to the Arbokem company, manufacturers of alternative paper.

Products like Rubicon, made by Fox River from 100 percent bamboo pulp, and Tradition paper from the Living Tree Paper Company made from 10 percent hemp, 10 percent esparto grass, 60 percent agricultural by-products and 20 percent post-consumer recycled fiber are now available at the American Printing and Copy Shop on University Avenue in Palo Alto.

Kamron Motamedi, president of American, says his motivation for selling them comes in two shades of green: The product is very high grade and makes excellent business stationary for his clients, and it also weans them from their dependence on trees.

Motamedi remembers how paper was thrown in the garbage and taken to landfills when he entered the printing business 16 years ago.

Then he saw the wave of recycled papers come on the market, the first step in discouraging a dependence on timber milling. But "recycled" usually means paper made from scraps from the mill, paper that has never reached a consumer's desk.

Post-consumer waste is paper that has actually been used and then dumped into recycling bins. Along with agricultural-based papers, this newest breed is a true alternative to virgin tree-based papers, and many local companies are trying it.

In honor of Earth Day, April 22, Bay Area Action bought a pallet--40 cases--of paper made by the Canadian company Arbokem, which uses "agri-pulp," by-products from agriculture that would otherwise be left to rot in fields or burned, as is the case with rice fields in the Sacramento Valley. The latter has caused such serious air pollution that the state has passed a law phasing out rice burning by the year 2000.

If the demand for the Arbokem paper Bay Area Action purchased is any indication, recycling the 1.8 million tons of rice straw California produces annually into paper could prove to be a viable alternative.

"It took us a very, very short time to run through what we had," said Cooper. Local businesses such as Western Front Graphics and Aladdin Enterprises bought some of the paper, even though it costs about $6 per ream (500 sheets).

The cost is its major drawback, said Motamedi. At the moment, tree-free papers are on par with other high-quality papers used for executive stationary, brochures and business cards.

It would be more difficult to promote the papers for everyday use, Motamedi said, as they cost nearly twice as much as 20-pound bond paper for copier machines, which retails for as little as $3 per ream from office supply stores.

Kinko's in Menlo Park offers kenaf as a resume paper for 15 cents a sheet. Their regular copy paper costs only 7 cents.

But it is a supply-and-demand issue, environmentalists say. Bay Area Action bought the paper to turn businesses on to the idea of going tree-free, to promote awareness. If more businesses buy it, then the production costs will drop, they hope.

And so does Motamedi.

"If the price was right it would be so easy to switch everybody over," he said. "There's a big market out there."

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