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THE ENVIRONMENTAL ADVANTAGES
OF KENAF PAPER

AT FIRST GLANCE, kenaf seems an unlikely can didate to replace the mighty tree.An African relative of cotton and hibiscus, it's a thick stalkedannual that resembles a gangly version of its more notorious cousin, the cannabis plant. Fields of kenaf don'tlook like much. If anything, they looklike some farm belt horror movie in which formerly fertile land has been invaded by giant killer weeds from outer space.

But these "weeds" grow quickly, and that's the first point to be made about kenaf. The plant reaches harvest able heights of up to 14 feet in just four to five months, and with annual yields ofsix to ten tons of fiber per acre, an acre of kenaf is three to five times more productive than an acre of southern pine,a common paper source. Rather thanslowly growing on a wood lot for decades, kenaf, with yearly harvests, is essentially a sustainable cash crop, onethat grows robustly without pesticides and only the barest applications of chemical fertilizers and herbicides.That makes it a great proposition for the environment and independent farmers alike, but it's only half the story. Once the farmer sends his harvest to the paper mill, kenaf's risingstar really takes off.

One of the problems with manufacturing tree based paper is that it is achemically intensive endeavor.There's a lot more to wood pulp than just the cellulose fibers from whichpaper is made, and to obtain purefiber and suitable paper, these various impurities all have to be removed with a series of toxi c chemical baths. Kenaf, on the other hand, has much fewer of these impurities and, as a result, less chemicals and less energy arerequired to obtain fibers from which high quality paper can be made. Kenaffiber is also naturally whiter than wood which means it can be bleached adequately with just hydrogen peroxide. Chlorine bleaching, the prime environmental nightmare at a modern paper mill, is simply not a part of the kenaf equation.

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By Geoff Davis


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