We all know paper comes from trees.
But how do trees become paper? Are certain trees better for making paper than others? Do woodchucks chuck any of the wood used to make paper and if so, how are they paid?
It takes some digging to answer these questions. Since we’re in this particular business we decided to do some of that digging. We also decided to share our findings with you.
Paper = trees
The main ingredient of paper is cellulose which is a fiber that all plants produce. Cellulose is used for a variety of things but one of its most important uses is in making paper. Paper can be made by hand at home but when most people think of paper, the kind produced in a paper mill is what comes to mind.
Paper comes in many forms but can be split into two categories - long fiber paper and short fiber.
Two types of trees
Certain trees are preferred over others for making paper. The kind of tree used also affects the kind of paper you end up getting. Softwood trees like spruce, pine, and fir possess longer cellulose fibers. When processed at a mill they produce paper that is strong and durable. Think: Origami. Hardwood trees like oak, birch, and maple have shorter cellulose fibers which creates a more opaque and delicate paper. Think: Toilet paper.
Basically, you’re not going to practice origami with toilet paper and you’re not going to use résumé paper for the types of tasks toilet paper is best suited for.
We left out the part about processing. Trees have to be removed. They then need to be transported. And then they are processed at a mill. That sounds easy enough but there are quite a few steps that need to be followed so people can have a napkin (that they’ll eventually throw away).
Animals lose their homes. A bummer right? When you cut down trees squirrels, birds, bugs and whatever else that lives in or around those trees no longer have a place to call home. How would you feel if someone came to your neighborhood and chopped down your house and took it away? We’re not trying to make you feel bad but it is a cost that should be considered even though it’s hard to quantify.
It’s LOUD & STINKY. Ever been around when an arborist comes to your neighborhood to cut down a tree? Then you know it makes a quite a racket. The chainsaws run on gas and sound like turbocharged weed whackers. The trucks and the grinding equipment, all diesel powered, idle all day belching hideous fumes and heat. Lovely.
They’re Heavy. You may have this picture in your head of logs quietly floating down rivers until they reach the open arms of a mill, like in this 1930’s logging puff piece put out by the US Department of Agriculture. But most trees are cut down and trucked and/or transported by barge or train to a mill. Helicopters are even used. Moving all those trees takes a lot of energy which emits a lot of climate changing CO2.
You need chemicals (and more energy) to make paper. Trees have to be turned into pulp which requires large amounts of water, energy, and chemicals. It also produces a certain amount of waste even though modern paper mills are fairly efficient operations.
It then needs to be moved. Again. You know the drill. It takes energy which makes more pollution.
The good news is that a lot of paper is recycled but even recycled paper can be traced back to tress that had to be removed from the land - depriving animals of their homes and the Earth oxygen and all the other things we mentioned above. All to be tossed in the trash or down the drain.
Stone paper ≠ trees
No one is chopping down mountains to get the stone for stone paper. That would be silly, completely unnecessary, and would be a tragic loss of a completely fine mountain.
Our paper is made of marble. We break into museums in the middle of the night and cart out as many priceless Greek and Roman statues as we can carry, pulverize them into dust, and turn them into notebooks and drawing pads. Just kidding. Nothing from antiquity was harmed to create our stone paper. We use the “waste” bits and cast-offs from marble quarries that when ground into fine powder make the primary ingredient of stone paper. It’s pretty harmless stuff. You probably have some in your house already as a marble cutting board or even as baking soda.
The production of stone paper also uses no water, acid, bleach or optical brighteners. And since trees aren’t used for our paper squirrels and birds aren’t forcefully evicted from their homes.
It does take energy to transport our stone paper products but guess what? We climate compensate all our shipping and we actually plant trees.
Note on woodchucks and wood
We were unable to ascertain whether any woodchucks work in the paper industry. The Woodchucks’ Union representative did issue this statement: “Woodchucks chuck all the wood that a woodchuck could if a woodchuck could chuck wood.”