Home > Paper selection > Paper Types > Tree Free Paper > Vision Paper
Profile: Tom Rymsza, Vision Paper

A person with a clear vision of the future who can stick with it year after year, against all odds, is a rare find. Perhaps that's why Tom Rymsza calls his company Vision Paper and his product Vision. This high quality paper is chlorine free, acid free and . . . tree free. It's kenaf. A member of the hibiscus family, this fast-growing plant can be harvested over several months annually, producing 3-5 times more fiber per acre per year than trees, then compressed and stored for up to four years.

Rymsza's company handles the whole production cycle. It grows the kenaf on farmland all over the U.S., often as an additional crop that replenishes the soil before replanting the farmers' other crops. Then the kenaf is shipped to a mill that specializes in making paper pulp from plants, then to another mill that turns the pulp into paper. Producing approximately 500 tons of kenaf paper per year, Rymsza converts it into web rolls and sheets, then handles distribution.

Sales are not easy. Although it performs well on both sheet and web presses, copiers and laser printers and looks like any other fine creamy paper, kenaf copy and offset papers are often more expensive than both recycled and virgin equivalents. However, the prices are becoming much more competitive these days. Rymsza says, "The high prices are the direct result of inefficiencies of scale. When demand goes up, costs will come down." Besides, he adds, "Buying kenaf paper is not about saving a buck, it's about saving a planet." Prices were recently reduced due to increased production. In addition to saving forests, growing kenaf requires little or no pesticides and can revitalize depressed rural areas with new agricultural industry.

Many customers agree. David Brower, founder of Friends of the Earth and also of Earth Island, published the first book printed on kenaf, Let the Mountains Talk, Let the Rivers Run. Motorola printed its 1999 corporate environmental statement on 100% kenaf paper. Disney printed their 2001 and 2002 annual environmental reports, Co-op America regularly uses kenaf, and a nationally distributed greeting card company, Tree-Free Greetings, prints solely on kenaf paper.

How did Rymsza get into a business with so many challenges? "I had a momentary lapse of sanity," he laughs. Actually, several years ago he read about U.S. government research into kenaf paper. "When you discover an idea that strikes you as very possible with both an environmental and entrepreneurial spirit, you look for the fatal flaw. I could not find it. I don't think I could live with myself if I gave it up and let these ideas die out for many years," he explains.

What's next? Kenaf pulp cannot easily be made in a wood-pulping mill, but many paper mills could buy the pulp as a feedstock for their paper machines. So Vision Paper is in the development stage of designing a pulp mill which, when built, will be the first kenaf pulp mill in the world that is also totally chlorine free. The mill will produce kenaf pulp that is of the same quality as tree pulp with less chemicals, energy, and heat. This tree free kenaf pulp will be competitive in the commodity pulp market. Rymsza continues to work on building the infrastructure and developing the markets for kenaf products as a founder and a director of the American Kenaf Society.

"Kenaf will become the main papermaking material," predicts Rymsza. "Trees don't grow fast enough and we need to bring new life to rural communities. It's just so simple . . . ." But he also acknowledges, "It's incredibly difficult." No push-button, short-term, fast return project, but Rymsza has proven he's the man to do it.

Visit Vision Paper's website.

- Susan Kinsella
May 2003


[an error occurred while processing this directive]