The Paper Trail

February 19, 1999

By Michael Jessen

Paper doesn't have to grow on trees.

Ancient Egyptians made our first paper from papyrus, a reed that grows along the Nile River in Egypt. The Bible is actually named after the Greek bi'blos for the pithy centre of the papyrus plant.

These days, paper manufacturing industry executives estimate that eventually at least 40 percent of our paper needs will be met from recycling the "urban forest" of used paper.

The hemp plant, which was used extensively to make paper in the United States until the marijuana scare of the 1930s, is today making a comeback as Australia, Canada, and France are bringing it back into cultivation for paper.

At least one magazine -- The Earth Island Journal -- is printed entirely on tree-free paper from the kenaf plant and many other magazines have already experimented with non-tree fibre covers and pages.

With all the magazines, newspapers, and books in print today, plus the high paper use in our office and educational environments, we are using more and more paper in the world every year. This growth in usage is not sustainable. We have to do more with less and encourage and use tree-less sources of paper.

One of the leading sources of information about the wise use of paper is a group known as Reach for Unbleached! It can be reached at Box 39, Whaletown, BC V0P 1Z0. It's phone/fax number is (250) 935-6992. The group has an excellent web site at .

According to Reach for Unbleached (RFU), the best paper for the job is the least processed one. The group especially recommends avoiding paper bleached with chlorine-based chemicals since they have been associated with water pollution around pulp mills. Oxygen bleached or hydrogen peroxide bleached papers are much more acceptable. Whenever it is appropriate, an unbleached or not de-inked recycled paper product is the most environmentally friendly paper.

RFU provides a guide for manufacturers and distributors of unbleached or oxygen-whitened papers for office use and printing. It can be obtained from their web site or by writing the organization.

The non-profit foundation is also leading a campaign urging consumers to "make tissues your issue". The Tissue Issue campaign is designed to prove and improve the market for alternatives to chlorine bleached household paper products.

RFU has found lots of household paper products, some of them inexpensive, Canadian-made, and brand new to the BC market which are unbleached, recycled and alternative fibre paper products. The complete list which includes such paper products as cigarette papers, coffee filters, diapers, menstrual products, paper napkins, paper plates, paper towels, tissues, toilet paper, and wrapping paper is available from their web site or by writing RFU.

This excellent publication lists the manufacturers, distributors and retailers of safer and alternative paper products. It will help you choose which paper products to use at home or in the office.

Almost all the chain stores in BC carry some recycled, unbleached or alternative fibre using products. Ask your store manager if you can't find them on the shelves as they do have access through their distributors. When it comes to toilet paper, Extra Foods sells President's Choice; IGA sells Smart Choice; Overwaitea sells Western Family 100% recycled; Safeway sells a house brand recycled toilet paper; Super Valu sells Envision; and Wal-Mart sells Fiesta.

Many alternative paper products are available at stores listed in your telephone book yellow pages under "Health Food Products - Retail". Among the local stores cited by RFU are Kootenay Country Co-op in Nelson, Mother Natures Pantry in Castlegar, Still Eagle in Nelson, the Tree of Life Market Place in Nelson (late spring to fall only), and the Winlaw Mini Mart in Winlaw.

Consumers have the most powerful tool in our economy -- their wallets. If you buy products and materials that are conserving, less harmful to the environment, and of good quality, you are sending a clear message to producers that you want these to be produced.

This is especially true of paper products. By choosing and using paper wisely, we can ensure that all paper doesn't have to grow on trees.

TRASH TIP - One person uses the equivalent of two trees in paper products each year.


All columns archived here are copyright © 1999 by Michael Jessen, all rights reserved. If you wish to print an individual column for your own use, please do so. If you wish to publish any of the columns in either print or electronic format, please contact the author at toenail@netidea.com to arrange appropriate payment.