Chlorine Free Paper Issues


Are there environmental problems in pulping tree free fibers?

Using agricultural fibers in place of tree fiber is detrimental to the environment. Even some of the most intensively managed forests are much more biologically diverse and hospitable to surface waters, soil, and wildlife, and they require far less chemical treatment than annual agricultural crops. - International Paper

There are some problems in any pulping, but there are a lot less problems in nonwood pulping due to low lignin contents. - James S. Han, Research Chemist, USDA Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory

Most of Europe's non-wood pulping infrastructure has shut down in the past three decades due to pollution problems. China's non-wood pulping accounts for 3x that of its wood-based pulping and the Chinese have identified their traditional (non-wood) pulp and paper industry as the number one source of pollution in the rural countryside. However, this is expected to change now that new technologies are coming on line fast.
      In North America, the mills that pulp flax and kenaf and the like are much cleaner. - Jeanne Trombly, Fiber Futures

The environmental problems are essentially equivalent to those related to the pulping of wood. However, most agricultural residue pulping systems are smaller than wood based pulping facilities which allows for the closed loop system to be effectively implemented. - Living Tree Paper Company

There is no environmentally benign way to manufacture pulp. Silica in agricultural fibers can pose a set of issues at the pulp mill. The existing papermaking model relies on diverse forest ecosystems for a raw material. Changing that model to one that utilizes a low input crop instead will have far less environmental impact. Kenaf produces 3-5 times more fiber per acre per year than trees and displaces high input crops that are currently being grown. In addition, most on-purpose crops can use milder pulping chemistries and bleaching sequences when compared to tree fibers. - Tom Rymsza, President, Vision Paper

Environmental problems from use of agricultural fibers include: Greater pollution in run-off and round water from the fields, a dust containment problem when handling the raw material as it is fed into the pulping unit, potentially higher water use in pulping and bleaching due to lower drainage characteristics. Water is more difficult to separate from the pulp with most nonwood fibers, possible higher BOD/COD discharges due to lower pulping yields with nonwoods resulting in higher dissolved materials. - Michael Jackson, Consultant, Tolovana Park, OR

My understanding is that waste water, and the spent "liquor" used to cook ag fibers, pose the biggest environmental problem. - Jeff Lindenthal, President, Green Field Paper Company

Nonwood pulp mills have a reputation of being high polluters. This has arisen from the many small (5-50 tons/day) mills in Asia that pulp straw, bagasse and other nonwoods and discharge the cooking liquors to the environment after little or no treatment. - Jackson 1997

Depending on the appropriate selection of pulping technology. There are considerable opportunities to be substantially better than the pollution footprint of conventional chemical pulping of wood.
      See for example, my presentations, "Industry Development and Environmental Protection - Compatible Goals?", "Alkaline Pulping of Kenaf Fibers from Crops Grown in Northern Territory, Australia and Anhui, China," and "Alkaline Sulphite Pulping of Sisal Fibers Grown in Brazil, China (Guangxi), Kenya and Madagascar." - Al Wong, Founder, Arbokem

Kenaf uptakes heavy metals at serious rates. This means that the heavy metals from the commercial fertilizers have to be removed in the pulping process, or there can be complications with the machinery. Academic and lab fertilizers typically will not have any heavy metals, so this complication may not show up in the testing stages. - Tom Rymsza, President, Vision Paper

It depends on how one defines problems. Pulp and papermaking, no matter what the material, no matter what the process, has environmental impacts. Papermaking requires lots of water and energy, and creates waste. Depending on the fiber, the process and the end application, greater or lesser inputs are required, and environmental impacts vary. But the overriding issue remains. Tree-free fibers for papermaking will take pressure off our dwindling forests and provide additional income opportunities for struggling farmers. And when agricultural residues are the source of tree-free fibers, the overall environmental and economic benefits become obvious from a policy-level perspective. That scenario must be kept at the top of the decision-making process, and not buried under arguments about minute variations in the cost/benefit relationship. - Peter Hopkins, Environmental Papers Consultant for Crane Paper Company, Gargan Communications

The environmental problems are similar to those from any pulping process. There are high contents of certain constituents, silica for example. However, the silica issue might just be a technology barrier. With further development, the pulping process can have silica as a byproduct to be sold, rather than a waste material.
      Given proper investment, pulping nonwoods might use less energy and resources because they contain less lignin than wood fiber. Generally, nonwood fibers take less water, chemicals, and energy. The nonwood pulping industry needs more experience to definitively qualify that statement, but in our experience it has been true.
      To address the technical barriers, there needs to be a combined effort from private industry and public research. When fighting an entrenched industry with significant barriers to entry, public support is critical. - Jeff Mendelsohn, President, New Leaf Paper

Ever since humankind was kicked out of the "Garden of Eden," everything any of us does is detrimental to the environment. Agricultural fibers offer some ways to minimize the devastation, but like any other new technologies there are opportunities with agricultural fibers to do a lot of damage. There is room for improvement in some of the pulping technologies. To make a better copy paper, we need better enzymes for bleaching. We need more research for nonwoods.
      The inherently impossible question seems to be: Overall, how do we minimize impact of industries that by existing destroy the earth?
      There is a clear role for the public dollar in nonwood research. There is already a ton of federal research money going into tree genetics, lower energy, and water use. We have to tap into this research. Alberta Research Council has done great work and should continue being funded.
      For example, the Department of Energy has millions going into research to lower the cost of production. We have to bring all the nonwood proponents out on the fringe together for research that will lower the cost of production. We have to realize that we're all trying to do the same thing: no one wants the landfills filled up.
- Peter A. Nelson, President, AgroTech Communications, Inc.

No problems. The Arundo donax processing can recover everything out of the pulp and reuse it. There is an extended value stream off Arundo. If you don't re-burn the black liquor, you can get 52 gallons of ethanol for every ton of pulp you produce. In cases where the cane is harvested from creak beds or other removal location, the free cost of the material offsets the transportation costs. Also, the lower energy and chemical lead to savings of about 35-40%. - Ernett Altherimer, Founder and Chairman, Nile Fiber

Bleaching is a concern. - Russell Clark, Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program, US EPA

As a purchaser, we need to know about the quality - in particular about the copy paper. We haven't received enough information that can convince us to purchase on a large scale. - Tyson Miller, Program Director, Recycled Products Purchasing Cooperative

It comes down both to the level of effluent treatment and recovery and to the amount and nature of inputs to the process. Pulping nonwoods generally requires fewer chemical inputs. Less in the way of bleaching compounds and sulfur compounds for pulping are needed in general.
      While our white paper discussed the challenges associated with the high potassium and silica content of cereal straw residues and the effluents that result from their pulping, we did not find much data on effluent quality resulting from the different composition. In general, there are challenges with recovery due to the higher levels of silica and potassium. Also, there can be some issues if the silica is not removed from the pulp and ends up in the paper - it can be abrasive to the equipment it runs through. - Richard Denison, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Environmental Defense

Most mills in developing countries use chemical pulping processes and are very small. They produce less than 20,000 tons of pulp per year. Most of these mills do not employ chemical recovery or wastewater treatment. Chemical recovery systems reduce chemical costs and environmental releases. However, conventional recovery systems, such as the one used in the kraft process, have high economies of scale and generally are too expensive to install at these small mills. Lack of wastewater treatment makes the situation more severe. Often, untreated effluent is discharged into the local surface waters. - Environmental Defense Fund Paper Task Force, White Paper 13, "Non-Wood Fiber Sources"

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