I foresee the time when industry shall no longer denude the forests which require generations to mature...
-- Henry Ford, 1934
A fast moving logging truck almost knocked me off the side of the road when I was visiting Central America in 1991. A beautiful tropical forested valley had me in gazing in awe when the truck came barreling by filled to capacity with large, freshly-cut trees. A North American who lived nearby told me that he was always asking the loggers in his best Spanish, "where are the little trees?" In other words "are you planting new trees to replace what youre cutting down?" He usually got a blank stare for an answer.
As consumers we often assume that manufactured goods are generally made in the best, time-tested way. As the modern world takes shape, and we enjoy the many amenities of American life, do we bother to wonder what is taking place behind the scenes of our many manufactured goods?
Paper is made from trees, correct? But who, I wonder, made that decision? Trees are vital to the ecological balance of our environment. From wildlife habitat to global warming the worlds remaining forests are paramount to earths ecological balanceprobably to our very existence. So why then would we make short-lived, throwaway, products from such a critical natural resource?
If you ask the paper industry, their answer will be that there is no other paper fiber source as plentiful or readily available as trees to meet consumers' voracious demand for paper. Perhaps, but consider that at one time all paper made in the U.S. was made from old, used rags. Yes, a "ragman" would walk through the streets of 19th century cities calling for old rags for feedstock in the paper mills.
At some later point when the industrial revolution spawned the larger paper-making machines the industry started looking around for a more plentiful and reliable source of fiber. Back then is when it happened. Someone exclaimed, "Lets use the trees!"
From that fatal exclamation forward is when the environmental disaster known as the paper industry became one of the most destructive forces on planet earth. It wasnt just their assault on forests but the pulping and bleaching chemicals they used and their deadly toxic by products like dioxins and furans, their wastewater effluents heating and polluting our public waterways, and the endless plumes of spent fossil fuel smoke blackening the air in paper mill towns.
Was it consumer demand for more and more paper that drove their tree hungry mills, or was it the industry itself inventing more and more paper products to sell?
About one in every three trees is cut for paper and paper products. Given the alarming rate of deforestation taking place around the globe, its time that we rethink the way we make paper. We should be seriously looking at the myriad of alternative fiber resources available to us like industrial hemp, kenaf, bagasse, grasses, cotton, straw, flax, bamboo, etc. All are agriculturally-viable crops that could become cash crops for farmers both and large and small.
Along with these new resources we could be doing a much better job of recycling and utilizing our post-consumer waste paper. Still much of our viable wastepaper resources are being land filled and incinerated. And sadly much of it is sold off-shore to Asian mills.
After I returned from my trip to Central America I decided to act to help preserve the worlds forests. Three months later 1992, I started GreenLine Paper Company in an apartment in York, Pennsylvania. Our on-line ordering center is now located at www.greenlinepaper.com.
-Stephen E. Baker
president, GreenLine Paper Company, Inc.
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