Chlorine Free Paper Issues


Is it appropriate to expect tree free fibers to also be organic?


There are already too much herbicides and pesticides used everywhere. We should all dedicate to promote organic and non-GMO cropping for foods and non-foods.
      See, for example, my presentation, "Nutritional Therapeutics as an Effective Strategy for Reducing the Epidemic of Type II Diabetes Mellitus Among Aboriginal People in Canada." - Al Wong, Founder, Arbokem

Yes, but in the short term, it is not a realistic scenario. But the industry should develop a definite time line that includes converting to organic. In some cases, the organic requirement might just be splitting hairs; it would be ideal, but if the industry is already using a waste stream such as straw, then organic would be an unrealistic requirement. - Jeff Mendelson, President, New Leaf Paper

We would be able to put an organic label on Arundo donax. All you have to do is put it in the ground 3 fingers deep and it's amazing what you get in just seven days. - Ernett Altherimer, Founder and Chairman, Nile Fiber

If we did an entire life-cycle analysis of trees, it would be hard to imagine that agricultural fibers have a good chance of competing on an environmental front if you have to dump chemicals on the land annually. Trees may do it after planting or cutting as well, but mainly spray only once every ten years or so. If environmental friendliness is the main thrust for environmental papers, we need to make sure that they really are less harmful. - Russell Clark, Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program, US EPA


To me, it would be impossible to expect agricultural paper fibers to be organic. Most agricultural fibers are annual and most annual plants do need pesticides and herbicides to grow. - James S. Han, Research Chemist, USDA Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory

Probably not given the small but growing niche organic agriculture presently enjoys. Then again, married with steady demand, anything is possible! - Jeff Lindenthal, President, Green Field Paper Company

NO - that requirement would be a huge barrier. Consumers do not require that of almost anything else they purchase. It would ensure the demise of the "tree-free paper industry" to expect that. Does anybody ask why tree papers aren't organic?
      We would never be able to have enough fiber to supply the industry. Farmers would have to go through a three-year transitional period, then pay to get a third-party certification. If they had a forward contract, which they would need, and after three years they were unable to meet the contract due to a blight, lack of rain, or too much rain, the paper mill would never come back to that farmer again. Organic is simply a standard we can not expect to impose. - Peter Hopkins, Environmental Papers Consultant for Crane Paper Company, Gargan Communications

No. The value of organic cropland is very high and more appropriate for food crops. Some on-purpose fiber crops, such as kenaf, require very little herbicide because of their rate of growth, and insecticide is not needed because they are harvesting for cellulose fiber rather than grain or fruit. These crops can provide a low input alternative for mainstream farmers. Organic status is awarded after multiple seasons of growing other crops so that the chemicals in the soil are absorbed. Kenaf, as a high yielding and low input option, can be used as one of these transitional crops. - Tom Rymsza, President, Vision Paper

In our opinion, this is a ridiculous question that makes nonwood proponents look like extremists. Agriculture (especially in the US) is becoming more productive, more sustainable, and using much less chemicals and harmful practices. In addition, the chemicals, fuels, etc., used on the farm are quickly being converted to being based on benign, biobased technologies. These agricultural technologies (coupled with robotics and engineering) are creating crop production scenarios that make "certified organic" seem destructive.
      Not only would an organic requirement lock farmers into a less sustainable system, but it wouldn't be the most environmentally beneficial. Organic makes sense for foods: they taste better and don't have harmful residues. However, organic growers generally have a lower income, therefore smaller farms and older equipment. They have to make more passes across the field and use more gasoline. We don't view this production practice as sustainable at all. The newer technology uses solar, biotech, and other forward-thinking practices. We used to notice massive dumping of herbicides along the Mississippi delta, where I farm. Now farmers have more options and aren't as dependent on herbicides. Those that they do use are more chemically benign. - Peter A. Nelson, President, AgroTech Communications, Inc.

More Dimensions

Non-woods should adhere to whatever organic labeling standards are currently practiced by the pulp/paper industry.
      FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) is dealing with the GMO question - that seems to be of greater concern than organics. - Jeanne Trombly, Fiber Futures

Only as far as mass volume crops can be produced by "organic" methods, which I think is marginal. - Michael Jackson, Consultant, Tolovana Park, OR

This needs to be addressed by industrial agriculture. Today's agricultural practices do not lend themselves to organic and crop rotation but that is a direction that needs to be developed by that industry. - Living Tree Paper Company

If we want to encourage on-purpose crops to be grown as rotation farming crops rather than in monoculture plantations, then they will only become organic when the food crops grown in other rotations also become organic. I assume that will take a long time and in the meantimewe should not handicap the development of nonwood fibers as rotation crops. The same with agricultural residues - they will become organic only when the food crops they derive from become organic. This is an issue for farm policy experts to work on. I don't think that we can sufficiently influence it from the papermaking side without undermining or even eliminating our ability to develop nonwood fiber options.
      Of course, if paper fiber crop plantations are developed - and they do not involve converting forestland, which we along with most others would oppose - it might be feasible to insist that these plantations be organic in order to minimize damage to the land.
      Otherwise, however, organic land is so valuable and there is still far too little of it that its healthful value should be dedicated to food crops, not paper fiber. - Susan Kinsella, Conservatree

Agricultural fibers are environmentally inferior when compared to wood fibers for making most paper grades. Whether the agricultural fiber is grown organically or not does not change the biggest negative environmental problems of using annual agricultural crops for papermaking; biodiversity elimination, massive and sustained land disruption, and high energy use. - International Paper

There are a lot of variables to weigh. We would expect it would be possible because it is not food, and therefore doesn't have to meet such high cosmetic standards. We would like to see a life cycle analysis of the recyclability and sourcing infrastructure of tree-free fibers to be able to make an assessment. - Tyson Miller, Program Director, Recycled Products Purchasing Cooperative

This is sort of a philosophical question. From a sustainability perspective, it would be advantageous for agricultural paper fibers to be organic, just as it would be for any other agricultural or silvicultural product. If organic status were easier to achieve for nonwoods than for woods, the organic label would increase their attractiveness. However, I don't know if it is reasonable to expect. I would argue for consumer choice - to let them know what they're purchasing and to develop meaningful standards. - Richard Denison, Ph.D., Senior Scientist, Environmental Defense

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