Organic Tree-Free Papers
Tree-free papers can provide an alternative to either recycled or virgin wood derived pulp. Even though some types of tree-free fibers (such as agricultural residues) can be produced with fewer chemicals, less energy, and less water than wood, the development of these materials for widespread consumer use has not yet occurred. In most cases tree-free fiber is more expensive, not available in large quantities, and faces challenges in manufacturing because mills may have to be redesigned or retrofitted to accommodate these new materials in the paper-making process. Agricultural residues (including coffee, banana, wheat, and rice residue) are considered the most preferable material to be used for paper production because these residues would otherwise go to waste.
Kenaf, hemp, and bamboo all grow in a matter of months rather than years and have been touted as wonder materials for paper production. However, the use of annual crops is complex and not advocated even by most environmental groups. Studies comparing the use of annual crops such as kenaf or bamboo to tree plantations do not necessarily support the substitution of these fibers for wood pulp. Annual crops may require more frequent doses of fertilizer and pesticides to produce the same amount of fiber and do not provide the secondary benefits of tree plantations, including wildlife habitats, carbon trapping, and water-quality protection. The use of annual non-tree derived fibers is still in its infancy and will require further investment and development before becoming a viable alternative to tree pulp.
Materials That Can Produce Organic Tree-Free Paper
Kenaf, hemp, bamboo, sugar cane, cotton (from rags or rolls), agricultural residues (such as coffee, banana, rice, wheat, corn, and rye)
Nonorganic Tree-Free Papers
The future of nonorganic tree-free paper may lie in technological innovation and the development of new materials that are designed for reuse. For example, William McDonough and Michael Braungart's book Cradle to Cradle is printed on a synthetic waterproof and tree-free "paper" called Durabook, which is produced by Melcher Media. Synthetic papers are smooth, come in different weights, take four-color process inks, and use no or limited wood or cotton fiber in their production. Unfortunately, while technically recyclable, without special recycling facilities items printed on synthetics will most likely to end up in landfills.
Another pioneering product, TerraSkin, is produced by Chameleon, which is the environmental division of Design and Source Production Inc. TerraSkin is a tree-free paper made from minerals that will eventually degrade back to powdered stone from which it was made.
None of these new applications are perfect, and most are considerably heavier than wood pulp paper. But these products do represent new opportunities for increased choice in environmentally preferable materials. They may one day prove that we really can invent our way out of the paper problem.