STUDY: A little history helps to set the stage for
this discussion. Even on an immediate timeline, note
that there have been changes in terminology over the
past few years. In the late 1990s and up until 2001,
when the questions for the Listening Study were first
formulated, environmentalists commonly used the term
"tree free fibers" or "alternative fibers." Now, however,
most respondents are more likely to use the term "nonwood
fibers," which has long been common among researchers.
Atchison and McGovern give us a longer view of nonwoods'
Brief History of Nonwood Paper Fibers
Atchison and McGovern 1999
as a papermaking raw material is a relative newcomer;
for nine-tenths of its history, paper was made almost
exclusively from nonwood plant fibers. The first true
paper is credited to Ts'ai Lun in 105 A.D. in China,
and he apparently made it from textile wastes, old rags,
and used fish nets, i.e. the fibers of true hemp and
China grass. Because of the processing that these fibers
had already received in the textile-making process,
they could be prepared for papermaking by little more
than beating, which was done by macerating them in a
mortar. . . .
The demand for [this
type of paper] became so great that a search soon began
for additional fibrous raw materials. The first suitable
raw fiber the Chinese found - i.e. straight from the
plant - seems to have been the inner bark of the paper
mulberry. This needed to be first separated from the
outer bark, and then soaked in an alkaline solution
of lime or wood ash, before being macerated. Another
raw fiber used was bamboo, which needed an even longer
soaking, up to several months. These procedures represented
the beginnings of the technique of pulping, as distinguished
from that of making pulp into paper. . . .
of making pulp and paper spread. . . .In regions where
paper mulberry, bamboo and China grass were not available,
they were replaced as raw materials by linen and cotton
rags. . . .
In 1450, however,
printing from movable type was invented in Germany.
. . . This created a demand for printing surface. .
. . In the next 150 years, therefore, mills for making
paper by hand were built in nearly every country of
Europe, and also in Mexico. The lower cost of printing
books on paper stimulated the foundation of many more
schools and universities. This increased literacy and
led, around 1600, to the publishing of newspapers. Thus
conduct of government and commerce, as well as of education
- in fact the social, technical, and economic progress
of nations - became linked to the production and use
But the resulting
increased demand for paper could not be met only from
rags and old rope, and the search for alternative raw
. . . Finally in
1827. . . William Shryock of the Hollywell mill near
Chambersburg, PA brought straw into successful commercial
use. Shortly thereafter, several mills in Pennsylvania
and New York were making straw paper. . . .
Between 1840 and
1885, the experiments on wood pulping resulted in four
commercially successful processes . . . [that] proceeded
to displace straw from a number of grades. . . . Nevertheless,
the production of straw pulp continued to expand, because
of its use for paperboard. This use took a spurt after
the acceptance in 1895 of straw paperboard by Wells,
Fargo for shipping containers, in competition with wood
boxes. Straw pulp production expanded particularly into
the U.S. Middle West, where wheat farmers had moved
previously and were producing an abundance of straw.
. . . In the early 1940's straw corrugating board achieved
a production record of 2/3 million tpy.
From then on, however,
straw corrugating board as a product of U.S. mills was
doomed - not by lack of quality, but by the economics
of straw supply. In 1960 only one small mill making
straw pulp remained, and in the 1970's the last of the
U.S. mills using straw pulp switched to hardwoods and
waste paper. Other developed countries experienced similar
trends. . . . Similar case histories could be written
showing how other nonwood plant fibers, once important
in many developed countries, have now been almost entirely
replaced there by wood pulp.