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THE ENVIRONMENTAL ADVANTAGES
OF KENAF PAPER

UNIQUE COMPANY

One company currently manufacturing kenaf paper in the U.S. is Vision Paper of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Like many small companies tryingto sell a new idea to a world entrenched in old ways, Vision Paper hasbeen caught, at times, in a catch-22,needing sales to finance the growingof kenaf, but not being able to getthose sales until they had the fiber thesales were financing. Explains company President Thomas Rymsza, "Themarket drives everything. If we get thedemand and we get secured contracts,then we can go back to the farmer andguarantee them that we'll buy thecrop and that will allow the farmerto plant more acreage." And so on,and so on.

Fortunately, the trend is on an accelerating upward curve, and manythink the kenaf revolution is about toexplode. If it comes to pass, it's a revolution that could have far reaching effects. Rymsza, a great supporter of sustainable agriculture and economies,believes that, even more than justmaking ecologically sound paper, kenaf has the potential to aid rural communities left for dead in a world increasingly geared towards giant,distant factories and remote raw materials. In a kenaf based world, localfarmers would sustainably and profitably provide kenaf fiber to a new generation of cleaner, smaller mills located in communities that arecurrently very much in need of goodmanufacturing jobs.

One of the reasons modern papermills are so big, and so few and far between, is that they have to be. Suchenormous scales of production areabout the only way owners can cost effectively treat all the waste water andair pollution such mills produce andstill turn a profit. A kenaf mill doesn'thave these problems. Because it's sucha clean fiber to process, the cost ofbuilding and operating the smaller, environmentally friendly kenaf mill isrelatively low. The scale of the wholeoperation is thus reduced to a size thatfits nicely into the landscape of a smalltown. With local suppliers feeding alocal mill meeting regional demand,rural regions would get a much neededeconomic shot in the arm and enjoythe rare pleasure of keeping their jobsand their money at home.

That is, however, getting ahead ofthings by at least half a century. Rightnow, there's just Vision Paper, a company that is just thankful to finally seesome growing demand for its product.

That demand, so far, has comemostly from various environmental organizations; Earth Island Institute, forexample, now prints its quarterly journal on kenaf paper. But the word is finally getting out and that means somemore mainstream users have beenbrought on line; users like The Gap,Warner Brothers, Kinko's Copy Centers, the state of West Virginia andmany others.

Kenaf paper is currently fairly expensive when compared to tree basedpaper, and that hasn't exactly helpedsales. But Rymsza notes with optimismthat while tree based paper prices areskyrocketing, kenaf paper prices haveremained stable. As the gap betweenthe two closes, kenaf will become amore economically viable alternative.

The signs are promising and an International Kenaf Association hasformed in Texas. Research continues,and the U.S. government has, at last,issued standards for kenaf based paper,meaning government agencies can useit if they choose. (However, accordingto Rymsza, a presidential order mandating the use of recycled paper for federal printing jobs means that, for now,there haven't been any takers becausekenaf paper, although "tree-free," isnonetheless made from virgin fibers).

Vision Paper expects to substantially increase itsproduction of kenaf paper, going fromapproximately 100 tons per year to 100tons per month. The company's threeyear plan further calls for a doubling ofthis production every year.


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