Thursday, March 25, 2010

Office paper made of Australian wheat - A green solution for the Aussies, and here?

We reported here in the past on the challenging task of establishing wheat straw as an alternative source to paper that comes from trees. One major landmark was the release of the Canadian National Geographic magazine's 2008 June issue, which was printed using 20% wheat straw. Now it looks like another landmark is achieved when 100% wheat straw paper becomes available for office use.

Springwise reports on an Australian company, Nature's Paper, which provides eco-friendly A4-A3 Copy paper made from Wheat Straw. Their promise is very simple:

"Our wheat straw paper looks, feels and performs like standard copy paper and is priced similar to standard copy paper."

Firstly, we have to clarify that when we say wheat we talk about the straw, which is usually considered residue, and not the grains that are typically used for products such as flour and cereal. Nature's Paper collects the wheat straw that is typically gets left in the fields to decompose and converts it to a quality paper pulp.

Why they do it? they explain on their website:

"We looked at our options and we were alarmed at the massive amount of trees cut down to make paper in Australia each year. 17 trees are cut down and wood chipped for every tonne of paper used in Australia and with 1.6 million tonnes of paper per year produced in Australia alone, that’s tens of millions of trees wood chipped in paper production each year.

By producing a high quality product for everyday use in printing emails, reports, flyers, invoices, plans, schedules etc that costs the same or less than you may currently be paying, AND places your business in a more environmentally conscious position, Nature’s Paper hopes to save millions of trees every year without it costing you the earth."

They are definitely right in choosing to focus on wheat, as wheat's carbon footprint is not only smaller from wood-sourced paper, but also from other agricultural residue options. The Canadian organization Canopy, which is committed to promoting the market development of papers using agricultural residue fibers, did a comparison between the carbon footprints of couple of options and found the following results (the footprint is per hectare):

Wheat straw - 0.8-1.2

Wood (Aspen) - 2.3-2.7

Flax straw - 2.3 -2.6

Wood (Spruce) - 3.9- 5.7

With these figures it looks very clear why wheat straw should be considered as an eco-friendly alternative to wood as the source of paper. And if it has the similar quality and pricing as "regular" paper, is there any reason your office shouldn't take it at least for a trial?

Well, if you're in Australia, definitely not. But what happens if your office is in the U.S. or Canada, where you can purchase the wheat straw from their local distributor, Enviro Green? Is the paper's footprint still significant lower after making all the long way from Australia to North America? I'm not so sure about it.

When the special National Geographic issue was printed, Canopy explained that the wheat straw used for it was imported from China because they couldn't find the large volume required for such a project in North America. Nevertheless, they explained that importing the wheat straw from China wasn't a sustainable solution and their vision is to help building the necessary production capacities in Canada and North America. I think the same logic applies to office paper made of wheat as well, so I hope that we'll soon have a local source of 100% office paper made of wheat straw in North America that will be a true sustainable alternative for local offices (at least those who are not paperless yet..).

If such a local source already exists, we'll be happy to hear from you. Please add a comment with the details.

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: Promoting sustainable reading!