Chlorine Free Paper Issues



"I believe that trees are the answer to a lot of questions about our future." So says Dr. Patrick Moore, the host of the video Trees Are the Answer. Those words could speak for virtually every respondent in this portion of the Listening Study. But the meaning of those words would be very different for nearly everyone. Therein lies the dilemma surrounding forest issues and paper.

This section of the Listening Study reports on debates about forest issues that impact papermaking. Since forest fiber is the primary ingredient in paper in most parts of the world, and particularly in North America and Europe, the management of forests to supply the papermaking industry is an integral topic for discussion. Does the paper we use come from trees harvested from sustainably managed forests? How do we know? Should we continue cutting trees to make paper? To answer challenging questions like these, the Listening Study conducted extensive interviews with experts in the field and surveyed dozens of books, reports, studies, and websites.

Ironically, almost all the responses to date have been quite calm and measured, which surprises us since forest issues are some of the most hard-fought and rancorous of all the environmental paper arguments. Nevertheless, the comments in this report lay out a wide variety of ways to view similar situations.

We at Conservatree also realized over time, in reading through the answers, that our original questions were inadequate. While those were the questions we most often had heard from paper purchasers and others when we first wrote them down three years ago, we have learned a lot more about forest issues since then. It has become obvious to us that the questions we posed about forest fibers only get at a portion of the debate and much more remains to be discussed. So we will follow this summary with more of the questions about which we would like to hear people's opinions, in addition to the good start the current questions present.

Sustainable Forest Management

A logical first place to start when discussing sustainable forest issues is to define sustainable forest management. When asked what this term means, respondents provided wide-ranging answers that contained some conceptual similarities. For example, the Northern Forest Alliance referenced sustained yield concepts in their definition, "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Victoria Mills at Environmental Defense focused on ecological integrity, defining sustainable forest management as "protecting all values of the forest - not just timber production, but also water quality, wildlife habitat, preservation of natural forest ecosystems and conservation of biodiversity." The majority of respondents indicated that forests must be managed to fulfill a variety of ecological, economic, and social functions now and into the future. The United National General Assembly also cautioned that, "Appropriate measures should be taken to protect forests against harmful effects of pollution, including air-borne pollution, fires, pests and diseases, in order to maintain their full multiple value."

Maureen Smith, author of The U.S. Paper Industry and Sustainable Production, suggests that, even with complex definitions, we are still a long way from truly understanding what sustainability means in forests: "Although the value of timber as a commodity can be measured, forests cannot be similarly deconstructed into simple economic terms despite the best efforts of diligent resource economists. Increasingly in recent years, there have been theoretical attempts to quantify present and future values of forest biodiversity, the value of (poorly understood) "ecosystem services" such as climate and watershed regulation, as well as the amenity (recreational) and even religious and cultural values of forests. Not surprisingly, such attempts have failed to do more than suggest the vast dimensions of our ignorance."


Respondents agreed that certification is a reliable method of verifying that a forest has been sustainably managed, although the type of certification varied. The two most often mentioned are the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification schemes.

SFI was introduced by the American Forest and Paper Association and is often used by the paper industry to establish that their forest practices are sustainable. SFI proponents state that this program provides comprehensive third-party verification of sustainable wood procurement practices and promotes reforestation.

Independent auditors who use environmental, social, and economic criteria to assess sustainability conduct FSC-certification. Supporters of FSC-certification assert that FSC uses sufficiently rigorous standards, addresses all ecological, economic, and social components of sustainability, and is truly independent of business interests.

Old Growth Forests

We received as many definitions of old growth forests as there were respondents to this question. Some specified an age which trees in a forest must attain to be classified as old growth, while others maintained that this age would vary depending on the tree species in question. Lack of human disturbance characterized some respondent's definitions of old growth and others stated that a host of ecological and structural features of forests define the term. Still others replied that there is no agreement on any one definition and the answer will vary depending on whom you ask.

There seemed to be greater consensus when respondents were asked if old growth was being cut for paper use. The majority of contributors believe that old growth is being cut for this purpose and some even provided a specific percentage of total harvest that is derived from old growth trees. Old growth boreal forests in Canada and Russia were mentioned repeatedly as specific locations where harvesting is occurring. Other responses include those from the paper industry commenting specifically on their organization's policies, emphasizing little or no use of old growth fiber sources.

To Cut Or Not To Cut

All respondents agree that some cutting of trees is necessary to supply human needs for wood products. Many, however, identify some exceptions and qualifications to this assertion, emphasizing the need to manage forests sustainably in order to provide for demand. One respondent advocates no logging on National Forest lands, suggesting that they provide more social and economic values when standing.

When asked if trees should be cut for papermaking, most respondents again replied affirmatively. They maintain that compared to trees, nonwood fibers require greater chemical application, generate increased runoff, and provide less wildlife habitat. These respondents advocate that trees are the most environmentally-friendly fiber source for papermaking, and should therefore remain the dominant source in paper. Others emphasize that utilization of nonwood alternatives, specifically agricultural fibers, might help relieve pressure on forests and provide benefits to farmers. Another respondent indicates that nonwood fibers are best, but if they cannot be used effectively in heavily forested areas, FSC-certified tree pulp should be used as a fiber source. (For more information on nonwood fiber alternatives, refer to the 'Tree Free Paper Issues' section of the Listening Study.)

Purchaser Verification

When asked how a purchaser could verify that a paper is the end product of a sustainably managed harvest, most respondents agreed that looking for a label which specifies a particular certification scheme is the most effective means. Most respondents indicated a preference for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification and labeling. They maintain that products bearing the FSC logo have been tracked from a certified source using Chain-of-Custody documentation, the link between consumer preference and responsible, on the ground performance. The other labeling standard identified is the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI). The SFI label is only used on products containing fiber materials that a qualified independent third party has certified to be in conformance with the SFI standard.

Genetically Engineered Trees

Most respondents expressed either uncertainty or were opposed to the use of genetically engineered trees for papermaking. Representatives from the paper industry emphasized that more research must be done before any commercial application begins, but expressed an interest in this technology due to the growing demand for paper products. Respondents who oppose genetically engineered trees expressed their concern with the possibility of cross-pollination between native forest trees and genetically engineered trees and with federal regulation of this type of technology. One respondent replied favorably to the use of genetically engineered trees for papermaking, citing greater disease resistance and less need for fertilizers.


A majority of respondents indicated that tree plantations can be a viable alternative to natural forests for pulp supply. Respondents cite several benefits of plantations, including reduced harvest pressure on natural forests, increased yield from less acreage in less time, and greater economic opportunity. In many cases, these same respondents also indicate that plantations must be well-managed and established on degraded lands, rather than natural forestland.

The concerns of a few respondents preclude their support of tree plantations supplying pulp for the paper industry. They maintain that plantations require extensive use of herbicides, and compared with natural forests, exhibit decreased soil productivity and species diversity. One respondent sums up the general tone of responses by stating, "They (tree plantations) could be in theory, but I haven't heard of an ecologically-sustainable one in practice."

Towards the Future

Based on the number of responses we gathered, sustainable forest management, both in theory and in practice, seems to be a concept that many people are attempting to define. The public is increasingly interested in the origin of the fiber sources that comprise the paper they purchase. Certification has arisen as a method to verify that forests, the primary source of tree fibers for paper, are sustainably managed. It is apparent when reading the answers to several of the Listening Study questions that there is disagreement as to which of the many certification schemes provides the best assurance that forests are being managed sustainably. Nevertheless, certification seems to be favored by many in the wood products industry and will likely gain greater popularity into the future.

If the demand for tree fibers to supply the paper industry continues to increase, tree plantations may be considered a reliable source for pulp supply. According to Listening Study respondents, whether plantations can be an ecologically acceptable alternative to natural forests and whether they can be the sole source of tree fiber for the global papermaking industry is still in question.

It is possible that our reliance on tree fibers for pulp supply may lessen as we explore alternative fiber sources such as kenaf, cotton, and hemp. The argument for tree-free fibers as an environmentally preferable alternative to tree fibers is contentious and many respondents seem to indicate that a combination of both might be the best solution to satisfy our growing demand for paper. For more information on alternative fibers visit the 'Tree Free Paper Issues' section of the Paper Listening Study online at

It is likely that additional research into genetically engineered trees will yield more opinions as to whether this technology is appropriate for papermaking. If alternative fibers are used as a supplement to certified tree fibers, the latter coming from natural forests or well-managed plantations, it is possible that genetically engineered trees might not be necessary to supply the paper industry. Regardless, it is certain that additional research into this technology will continue.

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