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TREE-FREE PAPER

Going Bananas

Banana fiber paper is made from the plant's stalk, a waste product that often clogs the rivers in which it is dumped. The paper now marketed in the U.S. by The Natural Paper Company (Kinko's copy stores have become a major customer) consists of five percent reclaimed banana fibers and 95 percent recycled post-consumer waste paper from El Salvador. A new café-au-lait-colored paper made from coffee waste just made its debut, and it should go well with Americans' caffeine consciousness.

Baltimore-based Atlantic Earthworks uses banana paper to make a wide variety of notebooks, pads and writing sets. "You're using an agricultural product that would otherwise be agri-waste," says Beth Yensan, the company's marketing director. She says that producers are working to increase the paper's banana fiber content, and that it works well in copy machines and for most printing jobs. "You can see the banana fibers, but the paper is completely smooth to the touch," Yensan adds.

Made By Loving Hands

The handmade paper industry has exploded in recent years, producing colorful, textured stationery and notecards that are works of art. The South Bronx, New York-based Sessile Paper makes its "burlap," "chamomile," "wheat germ," "blueberry" and "red clover" paper from those everyday substances, mixing in "an amalgam of junk mail, tea boxes, paste packaging, berry containers, love notes, hate notes, letters begging for money, old IRS tax forms...egg cartons, soup boxes and personalized business stationery from fired workers (company names withheld)."

Owner Andrei Kyryczenko says Sessile collects just about any kind of paper, separating it by color and type. "We found that blueprints will give you a really nice shade of blue," says Kyryczenko, whose customers include Aveda and Boston Market. Chamomile comes from the company's used teabags. "Making paper is like cooking," Kyryczenko adds. "You follow a basic recipe, but then you add in whatever you want."

World Paper products are also handmade, but in Indian and Nepalese villages, not in the South Bronx. The company was founded by Alexandra Soteriou, a former consultant with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization and U.S. Aid for International Development, to help create a market for village-level craftsmanship. Papers are made only from renewable resource plant fibers, including jute, coconut husks and hemp, and scraps (including blue jeans) from clothing manufacturers. Decorative elements like grass and flowers are added, and because they sometimes detach, it makes the paper unsuitable (like other handmade designs) for use in laser printers and copy machines.

Rick Meis of Montana's Treecycle Recycled Paper, which sells wheat straw paper along with many other TCF and recycled-content blends, cautions that "tree-free" is great if it doesn't end up taking away the market for post-consumer recycled paper. "The companies that are combining post-consumer waste with alternative fibers are moving in the right direction," he says.

Excerpted from an article originally published in E/The Environmental Magazine
By Jim Motavalli


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