Chlorine Free Paper Issues


LISTENING 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' history.

A Brief History of Nonwood Paper Fibers
from Atchison and McGovern 1999

Wood 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. . . .
      [T]he technology 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 of paper.
      But the resulting increased demand for paper could not be met only from rags and old rope, and the search for alternative raw materials intensified.
      . . . 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.

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