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Materials for Making Paper

Certainly not just with trees!

"It may be true that you are not responsible for the situation you are in, but you will become responsible if you do nothing to change it." - M. Luther King

Before delving into the incredible discoveries of mankind, it's important to know what is true and what is false when it comes to paper production. There are news considered true by hearsay, such as that paper destroys forests or that paper production involves excessive water consumption. We have gathered in this article the myths that have been debunked to date (if you know of others, let us know!). Ignorance does not justify our negligence or laziness in proper waste disposal, for example, or actions that, if repeated by many, can improve the quality of life for humans and the planet.


But let's get back to the topic. To produce paper, it is not necessary to rely solely on trees. For example, the Egyptians made it using papyrus. And for centuries, humanity has written on animal skins. In recent years, the industry has been returning to its roots, exploring alternative fibers, and the good news is that "tree-free paper" is already in vogue.

Here are some alternative materials for making paper.




Old T-shirts

In 2017, the British company Moo launched a series of business cards made from recycled old T-shirts. The cotton extracted from discarded fabrics produces a particularly durable type of paper, which is used in combination with other fibers for legal documents that need to last over time or in the banknotes of several countries.


The feces of herbivores.

In Sri Lanka, excellent paper made from elephant dung has been produced since 1997, known as Elephant Dung Paper. Similarly, the US company Poopoopaper markets paper made not only from elephant dung but also from cow, donkey, horse, moose, and even panda dung. The feces of herbivores are rich in fibers derived from the plants and fruits they consume. Through a process of cleaning and filtering, beautiful paper is obtained (completely odor-free!). Some believe that this technique could help address the serious problem of managing the feces of farm animals.




Peels, shells, and pits of fruit.

Orange peels, grape vines, olive pits, and fruit pits, almond shells, walnut and peanut shells... With all these products, the Italian company Favini is able to produce its "tree-free" paper, Crush. In general, agricultural residues that cannot be fed to animals or used to generate biomass end up being burned. However, these residues are a source of fibers that several companies are using to manufacture paper. A promising production line is the use of banana crop residues.



Plants that are not trees

In China, bamboo paper has been manufactured for a millennium and a half. Bamboo can be processed into a pulp that is very similar to conventional paper. This ancient technique has been turned into a business by companies like the Canadian Caboo. Sugar cane and hemp also offer promising fibers, already used in commercial papers. An African plant from the cotton family, kenaf, is attracting particular attention. A kenaf crop yields the amount of fiber in one year that the same area cultivated with pine would produce in twenty years.


(On papers made from plant fibers read the story of Aliza Thomas)



Algae

Every year, coastal cities collect tons of seaweed accumulated on beaches. These "sea waste" are rich in cellulose, which can be used to produce high-quality paper. Various initiatives, both in terms of research and applied to industrial products, are exploiting this possibility. The story of an Italian paper created in the 1990s is extraordinary, within the context of a research project aimed at capturing and recycling the seaweed that was invading the Venice lagoon.



Stones

Some conventional papers contain mineral powder that makes them shinier and more durable. But there is a type of paper where the mineral represents more than 80% of the product, mixed with a small amount of plastic resin. This paper, Paper Stone, made from stone, is already widely commercialized by various companies in high-quality products.



Leather

The Italian company Favini has introduced an innovative product made from recycled conventional paper, mixed with remnants from leather production. Thus, the circle is complete, returning to the beloved old leather as a basic material for writing.

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