May 22, 2009–Today’s Way: Of the total number of trees cut in the United States each year, about half of them are ultimately destined to become paper, or the equivalent of 12,000 square MILES of trees cut every year.  While some of those trees are planted specifically for that purpose, many are not, and old growth forests are clearcut in managed national and state forests around our country.  Clearcutting is a disruptive, devastating practice of indiscriminate leveling of every tree in a woodland, taking with it crucial wildlife habitat and destabilizing hillsides and wetlands, not to mention annihilating trees which help to keep our air and water clean as well as combating the effects of global warming.  And while recycling of paper has never been more popular, there is still a high environmental cost for every finished leaf of paper, whether consisting of recycled or virgin content.

After all, a tree takes years to become useful for paper or other purposes, so while it can be argued as a renewable resource, the amount of time and energy required as well as other factors from harvest to processing are not truly sustainable.

The better answer is tree-free paper.  Actually, papers throughout human history were always made from other fibers—linen, papyrus, straw and hemp were the common materials used in the creation of paper.  It was not until the mid 1800’s that trees became the new answer in papermaking.  For many reasons, and most of them political, trees became the norm in paper milling, and the fibers which had so long been the norm fell out of fashion.  This, despite the fact that “alternative” fibers just make better sense from seed to ream.  Hemp, linen, papyrus—these have all become “art” paper materials, and are very expensive to purchase because they’re often made by hand and intended for special use.  Yet if we were to use these fibers for our everyday newsprint, copier and office papers, the overall price of the paper would be cheaper than that made by trees.  Why?  Simply because of the turnaround time.  Alternative fibers can be planted and harvested multiple times in one year, rather than after several years as required for trees, and fibers made from hemp require very little pest management or fertilizers because of their naturally hardy characteristics.  The environmental implications of growing plants versus trees are simply all around better.

And the environmental benefits become outstanding when paper is made from recovered “waste” fibers as the result of other industries, such as sugar, corn, bananas, mangoes, coffee and many other crops grown for a different purpose.  When the leftover plant fibers are diverted into making paper, we have a win-win situation.

You can find tree-free papers in a broad array of colors and textures available online, and for more information about going tree-free, visit this site.