Paper, Printing and The Environment
Author: Heide Hackworth Date Posted:1 May 2004
Earth Greetings founder Heide Hackworth with Finsbury Account Manager, Adam Brown inspecting the VOC free offset printing press at Finsbury Green Print, Adelaide
Paper and printing has always teetered awkwardly on the edge between sustainability and environmental disaster. On the one hand, paper is recyclable, compostable and made from a renewable resource. But on the other, paper production is also associated with deforestation, land clearing, toxic waste and habitat destruction.
I began this page in 2004 In order to share some of the research I did which inspired me to start an earth friendly paper product business, Earth Greetings.
A lot of progress has been made by environmental groups since campaigns in recent years. I'd encourage you to research outside of this page to make sure any information you reference is up to date. Whilst I've done my best to find the facts, I can't take responsibility for the accuracy of information found through other sources.
Trees and Paper
Rising carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere is one of the major causes of global warming and we contribute to it in just about everything we do.
Trees have evolved over millions of years to become incredibly efficient and powerful at withdrawing carbon from the atmosphere. They absorb carbon dioxide through tiny pores in their leaves and store it in their wood, bark, leaves and soil. Trees also help to combat salinity, reduce soil erosion, provide windbreaks, clean underground water systems and provide habitat for wildlife.
Yet every minute 100 acres of rainforest is cleared worldwide. Recent World-first research by the Australian National University, contained in their Green Carbon Report, has revealed that unlogged native forests store three times more carbon then previously thought. According to The Wilderness Society, this research confirms that Australia has some of the most carbon dense forests on Earth – and that logging and clearing them has significant climate implications.
Logging also releases carbon in the atmosphere. ANU research shows that the logging each hectare of the giant Eucalyptus regnans forests in Tasmania and Victoria releases over 1,000 tonnes of greenhouse pollution.
Only a small portion of the carbon removed from logged forests ends up as durable goods and buildings, which retain absorbed carbon for thousands of years. Australia also exports unprocessed wood chips, wood waste and sawdust. The remainder ends up as pulp and paper.
According to The Wilderness Society, the logging industry has been misleading the public by claiming that logging is good for climate change because young re-growth forests suck up more carbon than old growth forests. What the logging industry conveniently ignores is the massive carbon loss that occurs when the original forest is logged.
Additionally, precious water supplies are lost through the logging of water catchments. The Victorian government allows the logging of five of Melbourne’s water catchments which supply over half the city’s water. Logging in water catchments reduces both the quality and quantity of water coming from the catchments.
Overseas, biofuel plants are being co-located with pulp and paper mills, with the waste converted to syngas and used to generate heat and power. This provides a potential opportunity for the pulp and paper industry to produce energy and chemicals from biomass and biofuels, including for its own use. According to a 2010 report by the Australian Pulp & Paper Industry Strategy Group, "in order to achieve leading-edge production processes, the industry would need to undertake considerably more R&D than is undertaken at present."
Protecting native forests is climate action
The Tree Projects has published three leading reports which show, for the first time, how many emissions are coming from the native forest logging sector. You can download their Forest Carbon Reports here.
The Tree Project remark that "the way that emissions are reported, the emissions from native forest logging are not separated from the carbon dioxide absorbed by our forests. Only a net figure is reported. This net figure makes it impossible to tell how many greenhouse gas emissions are coming from native forest logging. Our Forest Carbon Reports outlines how native forest logging emits approximately 11.2 million tonnes of carbon (CO2e) per year.
The Tree Projects explain that "When a native forest is logged, the majority of the forest is either wood-chipped and turned into temporary products such as paper, or is left behind as waste. Long-lasting wood products such as sawn timber, plywood and engineered wood used in buildings and furniture represent only around 4-6% of the forest’s carbon.
If native forest logging ended in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, we could prevent 212 million tonnes from entering the atmosphere by 2050. That’s an equivalent emissions saving as converting 10% of Australian homes to solar power.
We need to take immediate action on climate change. Not only do we need to reduce emissions, we also need to draw down carbon from the atmosphere. Protecting forests is a low-cost, effective and immediate way of achieving this. "
Where is paper made in Australia?
Australian paper manufacturing has greatly diminished since early 2023 due to the reduced availability of government subsidised timber from VicForests. Up until January 2023, Opal Australian Paper were the only Australian based mill to produce white office paper, at their Maryvale facility in Victoria. Since Opal's production of white paper stopped in January 2023, the only paper currently being made in Australia is brown (kraft) paper, liners and board for packaging.
In early 2023, the Victorian Government decided to bring forward the cessation of native timber harvesting to 1 January 2024, which has impacted the supply of native forest logs used to make woodchips for paper. According to VicForests, they "will continue to work closely with industry and remains focused on delivering timber until 1 January 2024."
In February 2023 Opal Australian Paper announced the closure of their Maryvale Paper Mill, blaming a shortfall in supply of native timber by VicForests. For many years, VicForests have been under pressure from environmentalists and activist groups to cease logging in native forests. Making Reflex paper with what is known as “high conservation value” native timber resulted in it losing its Forest Stewardship Council accreditation, prompting thousands of businesses to sign an “ethical paper pledge” to boycott it.
Opal are owned by Japanese giant Nippon Paper, one of the worlds largest pulp and paper manufacturing companies.
In June 2023 a representative of Opal Australian Paper said in their minutes that "Due to the unplanned end of VicForests wood supply last year, Opal has decided to end white pulp and paper manufacturing at Maryvale Mill, which includes Reflex copy paper. This will result in the closure of two of the five paper machines at the site.
Maryvale Mill will continue to make brown paper and board for fibre packaging. According to Opal: "We are proud to annually produce more than 400,000 tonnes of Australian made, high quality 100% recycled liners and mediums. The major input into our Botany Mill is post consumer recovered paper such as Old Corrugated Containers (OCC). All of our products are FSC® Chain of Custody certified and converted into 100% recycled corrugated board by the Opal Fibre packaging team."
Another manufacturer of paper in Australia, Visy, collect and sort paper and cardboard from multiple streams to turn into brown paper and boards. Visy claims to help divert 1.27 million tonnes of paper and cardboard every year from landfill, and produces 928,000 tonnes of fibre packaging paper and board.
History of Paper Making in Australia
For many years, the Victorian Government subsidised the sale of native forest logs through VicForests, making them much cheaper than plantation logs. So despite there being more than enough plantation timber to meet all their needs, Opal Australian Paper continued to use timber from native forests in Victoria’s Central Highlands because it is cheaper than plantation logs.
According to Australian Paper Watch, these logs used to make virgin fibre for photocopy paper have been sourced primarily from native forest eucalypts in the Central Highlands & Gippsland region in Victoria.
From Victoria, woodchips are turned into copy paper or exported to Japan, to be made into low grade paper products. Historically, logged areas are often cleared by burning.
Victoria is blessed with the most diverse range of habitats of any state. Their forests are home to the tallest trees and biggest carbon stores on Earth. But as Australia’s most cleared state, the challenge in Victoria to protect nature is urgent. According to The Wilderness Society, Victoria is facing an extinction crisis, with 44% of their native plants and 30% of their wildlife extinct or threatened.
The native forests of the Central Highland’s are not only under threat after many decades of fragmentation from logging but were also heavily impacted by the terrible bushfires of 2009.
The forests are also the last refuge of endangered species such as the Leadbeater’s Possum, Victoria’s endemic faunal emblem.
A Forest Industry Taskforce has been established by the Victorian Government to address issues relating to Victoria's forests. It brings together a core group of 10 key stakeholders to recommend solutions to conservation, wood and fibre industry, regional employment, and other challenges facing Victoria’s forests and forest industries. The representatives in the group are the Wilderness Society, the Victorian National Parks Association, MyEnvironment, the Australian Conservation Foundation, CFMEU, the Victorian Association of Forest Industries, Australian Paper, Australian Sustainable Hardwoods, and harvest and haulage contractors.
A brief history of logging in Victoria's Strzelecki Ranges
According to Black Rainbow, in 1998 the Victorian Government sold off the publicly owned forest in the Strzelecki Ranges to an American investment corporation called Hancock Financial Services. This meant that logging regulations designed to protect biodiversity in Victorian public forests no longer applied in the Strezlecki’s. This allowed Hancock to log without significant environmental restraints.
The Strzelecki Ranges has the least amount of area set aside as permanent reserves and parks than any other region in Victoria – only 2%. Maintaining these areas as native forest is so important for the biodiversity of the region but Hancock has been allowed to proceed in the last refuge of native forest - College Creek.
In 2010 the Victorian State Government walked away from an agreement between key stakeholders which was to link significant areas of the remaining rainforest. In it’s place they put in place an agrement negotiated in secret with Hancocks that allows for the clearfell logging of 400 ha of College Creek before it is put in reserve. The form of the new reserve has never been made public.
According to Friends of the Earth, this area has been converted by Hancock from native Mountain Ash which are being logged, to Shining Gum plantations. Shining Gum is not a native tree so this disqualifies them from FSC certification. Despite this their FSC cerfication has stayed in place with FSC appearing to do nothing about it.
The video shows that koalas in this region are found to be suffering as they are struggling to find food in amongst the pine and shining gum (not native) plantations. There is nowhere for the koalas to go for food after the native eucalyptus trees – their source of food - are removed. Many other native animals are also affected by the clearfell logging in the Strzelecki Ranges which according to Black Rainbow is being used by Australian Paper to make Reflex paper.
For more information about what is going on in the Strzelecki Ranges please watch the video below and keep up to date here
CENTRAL HIGHLANDS UPDATE: In June 2020, the federal court ruled that VicForests have breached threatened species laws with logging in the central highlands.
Now for the first time in 20 years, forestry operations may have to be assessed under national environmental laws after the federal court ruled VicForests had breached laws related to threatened species.
Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum challenged logging by the state-owned forestry corporation in 66 coupes in Victoria’s central highlands. They argued that VicForests had breached the code of practice in its regional forestry agreement and that its exemption from national environmental laws should therefore not apply.
Now, the court should prevent further logging unless it was assessed and approved by the federal environment minister. The court agreed VicForests had breached provisions related to environmental conservation in the code of conduct, and that past and proposed logging would have a significant impact on the vulnerable greater glider and the critically endangered Leadbeater’s possum.
VicForests Native Forest logging cases
In 2021, two legal cases against VicForests were brought separately by two different organisations – Kinglake Friends of the Forest and Environment East Gippsland - about the effect on forestry operations by VicForests on two native species, the Southern Greater Glider and the Yellow-Bellied Glider.
The cases are about the steps required to be taken by VicForests in deciding whether to take specific measures to protect these species from the effects of timber harvesting (such as night monitoring), and the measures that should be taken. In her findings, Justice Richards said that “VicForests’ timber-harvesting operations in East Gippsland and the Central Highlands present a threat of serious or irreversible harm to both the greater glider and the yellow-bellied glider as a species.”
Speaking about the outcome of the case, a spokesperson for Environment East Gippsland explained that "VicForests had conveniently never surveyed for threatened native animals before EEG’s landmark court win in 2010. That Supreme Court case, known as the Brown Mountain case, made it clear that VicForests must look before it logged. But it still hadn’t been looking very carefully and when it couldn’t avoid finding rare wildlife, it wasn’t putting in effective protections measures. Over that 12 years it must have knowingly killed and destroyed thousands of animals and biological values it was legally meant to survey for and protect."
The response by VicForests, is that they are now "Considering what further steps can be taken to comply with the Orders made in these cases, pending an appeal. As Greater Gliders and Yellow-Bellied Gliders are abundant throughout areas specifically designated for timber harvesting, most harvest operations will be impacted at this stage."
The End of White Office Paper Manufacturing In Australia
In 2023, the only white paper manufacturing mill in Australia has closed, due to the unavailability of subsidised forest woodchips from VicForests. The Maryvale Mill owned by Opal Australian Paper was manufacturing Reflex white office paper, and also 100% recycled office paper under the brands Reflex Recycled, and Planet Ark Unwrapped.
The closure of Maryvale means that paper collected for recycling in Australia is no longer being used to make white office paper. Clearly, it's no longer viable for this mill to produce paper without the input of cheap, subsidised native forest wood from VicForests. The volume of clean recycled paper (post and pre-consumer waste, including mill broke) input was not enough to make continuing manufacturing viable - as they were relying mostly on native forest timber for woodchips to make white paper.
In a twist of irony, in March 2020, the Australian government announced that as of 1 July 2024, only paper and cardboard that is processed or sorted to specific requirements will be eligible for export. This means that there is actually more paper needing to be recycled here in Australia, because less of it can be sent overseas.
According to the Australian Recycling Infrastructure, Capacity and Readiness (Plastic and Paper) Report prepared for the Australian Australian Council of Recycling in June 2022:
"Following the paper ban rules coming into force in July 2024 it is estimated there will be between 750,000 and 1.1 million tonnes of recovered paper looking for an export market."
"Australia’s capacity to recycle paper is largely static with paper recycling facilities consuming 1.5 to 1.8 million tonnes of recovered material each year. There is no current evidence that any significant additional paper recycling capacity is going to be coming on-line in Australia."
In 10 years between 2011 and 2021, paper production has declined 815,000 tonnes. This is largely due to the decreased demand for newsprint. However, packaging production has increased and is expected to continue to grow.
In June 2022, the current capacity for recycling paper in Australia is estimated to be 1,475,000 tonnes. The input of recovered fibre to paper recycling mills was 1,367,000 tonnes in 2021-2022.
There are three infrastructure projects expected to increase capacity by 235,000 tonnes per annum; the pulp mill in Perth, drum pulper at the Coolaroo Paper Mill and the fibre polishing plant in South Australia.
As noted however this increase in capacity is not all additional recycling capacity, as the drum pulper and fibre polishing projects will not increase overall. It is also noted that the pulp mill project in Perth has not proceeded as planned and it is clear at this stage whether it will proceed or not.
The report concludes that:
"Industry stakeholders report that the only cause of a significant increase in local recycling capacity for paper will be if new paper recycling mills are built in Australia. it is highly unlikely that any new paper mills will be built in Australia as the economic environment is not favourable for such investments."
Tasmanian Native Forests - On The Edge
September 2012 - Ausralian woodchipping giant Gunns went into administration after failing to obtain finance to build a massive toxic, forest hungry chemical pulp mill in northern Tasmania.
Efforts by Australian Paper to gain support for a recycled paper making facility here, and the signing of the Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement were reasons to look to a more positive future for our forests. The Forests Agreement took almost three years to negotiate after 30 years of conflict between conservationists and the timber industry in Tasmania. That same year, Pulp the Mill put in a momentus effort in helping to save the Tamar Valley from the potential environmental destruction a pulp mill would have brought to this pristine area.
January 2014 - Attempts are being made to sell the rights to the pulp mill and it's timber resources again!
Australian NGO Markets for Change describe this as a recurring nightmare for our environment. They say that as the only Australian group who has been invited to a once-off international strategy meeting of environment groups on the global pulp industry and their investors they have an exceptional and timely opportunity to affect this decision. Just as attention is on the Tasmanian Pulp Mill with investors, they can try and focus the international movement as well. If successful, this will send a powerful message to potential investors around the world.
March 2014 - The newly elected State Liberal Government in Tasmania plans to tear up their state’s forestry peace deal, the Tasmanian Forests Intergovernmental Agreement.
This is an agreement that took almost three years to negotiate after 30 years of conflict between conservationists and the timber industry in Tasmania. Tony Abbott says the Commonwealth wants 74,000 hectares taken out of the Tasmanian World Heritage listing on the grounds that “We just don't see the sense in trying to lock up land which is either degraded, logged or plantation timber. We want to see a renaissance of forestry in Tasmania.” Greens leader Christine Milne suggests Tony Abbott may be seeking to withdraw old-growth forests from World Heritage listing so they can change the proposed controversial pulp mill in Tasmania to a native-forest based pulp mill. Senator Milne has warned that winding back the listing would destroy Tasmania's fragile peace deal and destroy the already ailing forestry industry because "The whole world would know that Tasmanian forest products are compromised," she said.
Other parties to the Forests Agreement have reaffirmed their support for it including the CFMEU who represent forest workers. Their president saying that “Ending this agreement will put timber workers’ jobs on the path to destruction and “undoing the conservation outcomes achieved by the agreement will reintroduce conflict – and conflict will destroy markets both nationally and internationally.
it's very concerning to see the beginnings of the winding back of the Tasmanian Forests Agreement and the unlocking of World Heritage Listed forests, opening them up to environmental destruction. With 1% of Tasmanian jobs coming from logging forests and 15% in tourism, destroying our wild places to make low grade timber, woodchips for paper and even worse, burning them to fuel power stations doesn't even make economic sense!
"Governments’ failure to protect World Heritage value takayna is being met head on by our defiant campaigns, legal tactics and direct actions. Takanya's magnificent forests and rivers are home to many rare and endangered species. This includes the Tasmanian Devil, Tasmanian Masked Owl and the world’s largest freshwater invertebrate, the Giant Tasmanian Freshwater Crayfish."
Earth Greetings founder Heide Hackworth in Tasmania's Tarkine forest.
Clearfelling is the removal of all trees from an area with the remainder of the plants destroyed by burning. The forestry industry claims clearfelling is done to ‘mimic nature’ by producing seed regeneration however there is much scientific evidence that this is not the case. In a naturally occuring bushfire, many trees remain protected by their bark or plant tissue that can quickly send out new growth in the event of physical damage to a tree. Forest burning also releases dangerous greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, further adding to global warming.
Another result of clearfelling is soil compaction which affects the ability of plants to regenerate and the ability of the soil to capture and hold moisture. Subsoil is brought to which can change the chemistry of soil and in some instance may even lead to the soil becoming toxic.
Australian National University biologist David Lindenmayer has spent almost 20 years studying the ecology of Victoria's mountain ash forests. He says wildfires leave a centuries-old biological and structural legacy. Clear-felling, on the other hand, removes almost all vegetation, so that a quite different, botanically simplified and even-aged forest grows back. Lindenmayer says clear-felling leaves too few trees to sustain species relying on hollows. Victoria's endangered faunal emblem, the Leadbeaters possum, for example, suffers because it needs multiaged forests where short-lived, fire-loving forage trees stand under a canopy of old, hollow-bearing giants that have survived a series of mild and moderate blazes over the centuries. He says logging should be varied according to natural landscape variations. He says other countries such as Sweden are adjusting methods to resemble local patterns of natural disturbance. This means, for example, that a patch with little natural fire history would never be logged. "We are behind the world in best practice and we have some work to do to catch up now," he says. Source: Claire Miller in The Age, 13 May 2002
Forests Are Water Catchments
According to Friends of the Earth spokesperson, Cam Walker, every year for the past 20 years, about three square kilometres of Melbourne’s water catchments have been clearfell logged. About seven out of every ten trees cut down are sent off to the Australian Paper pulp mill to be woodchipped and made into paper products.”
Until recently in 2023, the Victorian Government was subsidising the sale of native forest logs making them much cheaper than plantation logs.
“Melbourne has already lost a huge amount of water because of logging. Stopping logging today would mean we can begin to reclaim lost water. In 40 years we would have an extra 16 gigalitres of water every year, that’s enough water for a city of at least 100,000 people. A logging ban today would help offset water yield losses that that are now expected as a recent of recent bushfires”
Imported Pulp Potentially From llegal Logging
According to A3P (Australasian Plantation Products & Paper Industry Council), imports from Indonesia represent some 8.5% of Australia’s wood and paper products. It is estimated that Indonesia has lost almost a quarter of its forest area since 1990 and continues to experience a deforestation rate of close to 2% annually. A recent study prepared for the American Forest and Paper Association (Wood for Paper: Fiber Sourcing in the Global Pulp and Paper Industry) indicates that 20% of the wood fibre used by the pulp industry in Indonesia is potentially of suspicious origin.
A World Bank study estimates that the deforestation rate in Indonesia is higher than it has ever been at 2 million ha/year, representing an annual loss of forest equivalent in area to the size of Belguim.
According to the World Wildlife Fund every year an estimated $400 million worth of illegally logged forest products are sold in Australia from places such as Sumatra, Borneo and New Guinea./
Pollution in the Paper Manufacturing Process
Traditionally, paper is made white by toxic chlorine bleaching that has a negative impact on rivers, lakes, oceans and our health. Chlorine is used in a number of different forms: as elemental chlorine gas, chlorine dioxide or sodium hypochlorite. All result in the discharge of toxic organochlorine by-products. According to Greenpeace, organochlorines from pulp mills have been found in water, sediment and food chain as far as 1400 kilometres from their source.
Chlorine dioxide results in the production of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as dioxins and furans. POPs can cause nervous system damage, diseases of the immune system, reproductive and developmental disorders, and cancers in humans and other animals.
Dioxin is not easily broken down, and as a result ends up in soil, water, and on plant surfaces. From there it enters the food chain and the fats of fish, meat and into dairy products. Dioxins have been identified in products such as tissues, tampons, disposable nappies, coffee filters and bleached milk cartons & cigarette papers. Choosing paper products that are unbleached and processed chlorine free as well as avoiding meat & animal products are the best way to avoid dioxin consumption.
Alternatives to Chlorine Bleaching Paper
Technologies are now widespread which enable complete elimination of chlorine gas from chemical pulp bleaching processes. The most established of the new technologies, with some 40% of the world bleached chemical pulp market, is Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) bleaching. ECF bleaching avoids use of chlorine gas by substituting chlorine dioxide as the main bleaching agent, often preceded by oxygen delignification. Effluents contain less total organochlorines and are less toxic than those produced by chlorine gas - but can still cause damaging effects. Totally Chlorine Free (TCF) bleaching -the best for the environment as this process uses neither chlorine nor chlorine compounds and relies solely on peroxide, ozone and oxygen to achieve satisfactory whiteness. TCF bleaching is technically more difficult and, until recently at least, more expensive to retrofit on existing mills.
Air Emissions in Paper Making
Gaseous emissions of concern in paper making include hydrogen sulphide, oxides of sulphur, oxides of nitrogen and ‘dust’. Volatile organic compounds (VOC's) can act as precursors in the formation of low altitude ozone, a component of smog which can have a serious effect on human health. In the US the pulp and paper industry is included in a category of ‘major sources of hazardous air pollutants’ because of the known presence of volatile organic compounds, chlorine, chloroform and hazardous metallic air pollutants in pulp mill emissions.
Uncoated vs clay-coated paper
Clay coated paper is generally much shinier than uncoated paper, and is often chosen for its glossy look. However, during the recycling process the clay coating has to be removed and is generally disposed of as waste, which reduces the amount of useful fibre per tonne recovered from recycling paper by approximately one third.
An eco label is an independent certification that is supposed to ensure important key impacts are minimised for a product. There are many eco labels that include the Blue Angel - Germany; Nordic Swan - Denmark; and the Green Seal - USA). Most eco-labels are part of the Global Ecolabelling Network (GEN). Wherever possible select a paper that has one of these labels but remember to read behind the label.
There are also environmental management schemes such as the Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) and International Organisation for Standards 14001 (ISO) environmental management system.
FSC is an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organisation established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests. Established in 1993 as a response to concerns over global deforestation, FSC is widely regarded as one of the most important initiatives of the last decade to promote responsible forest management worldwide. FSC is a certification system that provides internationally recognised standard-setting, trademark assurance and accreditation services to companies, organisations, and communities interested in responsible forestry. (Source: http://www.fsc.org)
According to many observers the FSC label is being applied to forest and paper manufacuring practices that are not always environmentally sustainable. Part of the problem is that the sometimes company that carries out the certificaiton assesment is paid directly by the company that is trying to gain certification. This creates a conflict of interest. FSC labelling applied to products is also increasingly complex and may confuse or mislead consumers into buying products that are not necessarily derived from 100% sustainable sources. For more info on the problems with FSC Labelling please refer to the links below;
Researcher Chris Lang's excellent blog, FSC Watch, Forests.org, World Rainforest Movement and http://www.illegal-logging.info.
In August 2011 paper manufacturer Australian Paper was recently stripped of its FSC certification for its Reflex brand paper. Despite there being more than enough plantation timber to meet all their needs, Australian Paper have continued to use timber from native forests in Victoria’s Central Highlands to make photocopy paper like Reflex. Rather than make a truly green paper product, Australian Paper has been content to hide behind the FSC certification whilst continuing to use timber from high conservation value native forests in endangered species habitat to make its paper products.
Luke Chamberlain, The Wilderness Society's Victorian forest campaigner responded by saying “It is time for the makers of Reflex paper to move into the 21st century and make a real green product using plantation timber and recycled fibres only”
The native forests of the Central Highland’s are not only under threat after many decades of fragmentation from logging but were also heavily impacted by the terrible bushfires of 2009. The forests are also the last refuge of endangered species such as the Leadbeater’s Possum, Victoria’s endemic faunal emblem.
Pulp From Monoculture Plantations
According to the World Rainforest Movement, in spite of all the documented evidence about plantations’ impacts, they continue being promoted by a coalition of governmental, intergovernmental and corporate actors, with the aim of putting people’s lands in the hands of “corporations operating in the pulp and paper, timber, rubber, palm oil businesses” for enabling the continuing “wasteful overconsumption of the products of these plantations by nations in the affluent North”.
A group of people from several organisations have launched an international declaration calling for a halt to the further expansion of monoculture plantations. The declaration has been signed on by 8,429 people from 85 countries. In 2004, organisations struggling against the expansion of large-scale tree plantations declared 21 September as International Day Against Monoculture Tree Plantations. Since then, organisations throughout the world carry out actions on this date to raise awareness about this issue.
Given that these plantations are being promoted under the guise of “forests”, the declaration summarises the main reasons of concern: “Local communities are displaced to give way to endless rows of identical trees – eucalyptus, pine, oil palm, rubber, jatropha and other species - that displace most other forms of life from the area.”
Such displacement of people and nature gives way to a large number of social and environmental impacts: “Farmland, which is crucial for the food sovereignty of local communities, is converted to monoculture tree plantations producing raw materials for export. Water resources become depleted and polluted by the plantations while soils become degraded.”
Local communities suffer different forms of human rights violations, “ranging from the loss of livelihoods and displacement to repression and even cases of torture and death. While communities suffer as a whole, plantations result in differentiated gender impacts, where women are the most affected.” Source: World Rainforest Movement
How much paper do we use in Australia?
According to the Pulp & Paper Industry Strategy group, Australians consume around four million tonnes of paper and paperboard each year — an amount equal to nearly 200 kg per person. Per capita consumption of paper is high and increasing, and Australian paper output has increased, in quantity terms, at around 2.4 per cent a year between 1996 and 2006. It is estimated that between 10 and 17 trees are needed to produce 1 tonne of paper - and this is only enough for around 7,000 copies of a national newspaper!
World paper consumption reached 366 million tonnes in 2005 and is rising steadily at an annual rate of 3.6 per cent. The US and European Union consume the most paper per capita. However, global consumption growth is primarily due to solid demand from China and India. Chinese pulp imports have increased by 27.2 per cent in the first four months of 2008, compared with the same period in 2007, according to the Chinese Customs Bureau. China has around 7,000 paper machines in operation but lacks a large domestic supply of pulp and needs to import most of its raw materials and pulp from other countries, including Australia.
Which papers are better for the environment?
Opting for recycled paper can have a significantly lower environmental impact compared to paper made from virgin (non-recycled) pulp. Making recycled paper uses much less trees, water and energy to produce, and creates a circular economy which utilises waste sources and conserves forest habitat.
Paper is recycled by mixing it with water to break it down into cellulose fibers again. Post-consumer waste must be de-inked before being recycled. Recycled pulp is commonly blended with a portion of virgin fibre to improve paper quality.
Recycled pulp is more energy efficient than virgin mechanical or chemical pulping processes. Assessments by US organisation
Environmental Defence reveal the facts when it comes to recycled paper versus virgin fibre paper:
Recycled paper uses 36% less energy consumption, 44% fewer greenhouse gases, produces 38% less waste paper and outputs 82% less solid waste than virgin fibre paper.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that recycling causes 35% less water pollution and 74% less air pollution than making virgin paper.
Traditiionally, paper is made using woodchips from trees or plants and is called virgin fibre. Often, papers are made from a mixture of virgin fibre, pre and post consumer waste.
Pre-consumer waste means paper that has come from mill broke (offcuts) and is used to make new paper. Post-consumer waste means paper that has been used by consumers, and then gets recycled into new paper. The environmental benefits of paper recycling far outweigh the need to produce woodchips for making new paper, and choosing recycled paper creates more demand for recycling systems.
Benefits of recycled paper include:
Reduced Resource Consumption: Recycled paper is made from recovered paper and cardboard products, such as newspapers, magazines, and office paper, which have already served their primary purpose. Using recycled content reduces the demand for virgin pulp, which in turn conserves natural resources like trees, water, and energy.
Energy and Water Savings: The production of recycled paper typically consumes less energy and water compared to paper made from virgin pulp. It also generates fewer greenhouse gas emissions, helping to mitigate climate change.
Diverting Waste from Landfills: Incorporating post-consumer waste into recycled paper helps divert paper waste from landfills, reducing the environmental impact associated with waste disposal. Landfilling paper can contribute to methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas.
Conservation of Forests: By using recycled paper, you support the conservation of forests and the biodiversity they host. Reduced demand for virgin pulp can help protect valuable ecosystems.
Energy-Efficient Recycling Process: The recycling process for paper is generally more energy-efficient than the pulping process required for virgin paper production. This helps to lower the overall environmental footprint.
Promoting Circular Economy: Choosing recycled paper promotes a circular economy by reusing materials and extending their life cycle. It aligns with sustainable practices that prioritize resource efficiency and waste reduction.
Which Recycled Paper Is Best?
Choosing recycled paper, particularly paper with a high percentage of post-consumer waste or alternatives to wood fibre, is an effective way to reduce the environmental impact of paper consumption. Choosing recycled paper conserves resources, reduces energy and water use, prevents paper waste from entering landfills, and supports sustainable forestry practices. Incorporating recycled paper into your daily life or business operations is a practical step toward environmental responsibility and conservation.
Here are some earth friendly papers available at the time of writing, however please be aware that the paper industry is always changing due to the availability of pre and post consumer fibre. These papers may no longer be available and there may be new recycled papers on the market.
Recycled Home & Office Paper:
Ecocern is an Australian owned company who are very passionate about supplying environmentally friendly paper. They stock a wide range of unbleached (brown) 100% post-consumer waste products such as envelopes and packaging supplies. They also sell their own brand of Australian made, unbleached, 100% post-consumer recycled paper (brown colour.)
Muru: White, 100% recycled A3 and A4 Paper, manufactured in in Indonesia by The Muru® Group, a Supply Nation certified business. This paper "supports Indigenous community initiatives whilst helping Corporate and Government buyers deliver on their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) targets and commitments."
After partnering with the Muru® Group in 2014, ‘COS® is the exclusive supplier of the Muru® range. "Each purchase of a Muru® product provides direct social and economic support to Indigenous families throughout Australia. Muru® 100% Recycled Copy Paper is an environmentally friendly paper containing 100% post consumer recycled fibres."
COS® explain that:
"COS® did produce our recycled papers with Opal and we have found an alternative source for Muru 100% recycled paper which has just started arriving around the country. We are very excited about the new Muru including that it is now Carbon Neutral, and manufactured by a PEFC certified mill in Indonesia that was recently awarded the Enhanced Singapore Green Labelling Scheme for Pulp and Paper Products (Enhanced SGLS). The paper itself will be PEFC certified, made of 100% Post-Consumer Waste, Carbon Neutral and no longer has a plastic strap on the carton, removing thousands of straps from landfill."
Recycled Offset or Digital Print Paper:
Ball & Doggett are an Australian distributor of 100% recycled papers. Please visit their website for up to date information about recycled papers currently available.
ecoStar+ is an environmentally responsible paper made carbon neutral and is FSC® Certified Recycled. ecoStar+ is manufactured from 100% post consumer recycled fibre in a process chlorine free environment under the ISO 14001 environmental management system. Made in Austria. Available in Australia from Ball & Doggett.
Envirocare 100% Recycled is made from 75% post consumer & 25% pre consumer waste and manufactured without the addition of optical brighteners. Made in a facility that is ISO 14001 accredited and with process chlorine free pulps; thereby helping to reduce harmful by-products. Made in Austria. Available in Australia from Ball & Doggett.
Impact 100% Recycled is manufactured using technology that allows excellent long-term colour rendering in four-colour digital printing. Made carbon neutral and is FSC® Certified Recycled. Made in Austria. Available in Australia from Ball & Doggett.
Alternative Fibre Paper:
Coffee Cup Paper Extract uses CupCycling technology to take 90% of the waste from each coffee cup and convert it back to FSC certified paper.
Denim & Cotton Paper - Denim jeans and fabric offcuts can be recycled to hand-make paper.
Kenaf paper - Kenaf belongs to the same plant family as cotton. It is an annual crop which is normally grown over the wet or summer season and is harvested for fibre soon after it commences to flower. Under good conditions kenaf will grow to a height of 5 to 6 metres in 6 to 8 months and produce up to 30 tonnes per hectare of dry stem material. Kenaf has been shown to be well adapted to production in northern Australia and can be grown on a wide range of soil types. It is tolerant of drought and relatively free from pests and diseases.
Though currently one of the worlds biggest consumers of wood-fibre papers, the Japanese pulp and paper industry is keen to increase its usage of non-wood fibres and has indicated that kenaf is the preferred feedstock. Currently, Japanese importers are experiencing serious difficulties in securing supplies of kenaf. This opens up an exciting opportunity for Australia to establish and develop this new exciting opportunity. According to the New Crops Newsletter, Ausfibres Pty Ltd is a company established to commercialise the Australian production of non-wood fibre crops, particularly kenaf, for the manufacture of pulp and paper, and other end uses. A proposal for a Kenaf paper mill in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, shows estimates that the workforce would be 300-strong, with an additional 180 ancillary jobs created to supply goods and services.
Hemp paper - From 75 to 90% of all paper in the world was made with cannabis fibre until the 1880s. These included books, Bibles, maps, paper money, stocks and bonds, and newspapers. Hemp can also be used as an additive to strengthen and improve quality in wood and straw-based paper manufacture. The main reason industrial hemp use has dwinled is because it became illegal to cultivate in some countries, even though the level of THC is too low in industrial hemp to cause any psychotropic effects. Powerful lobbies by the wood-pulp mills didn't help hemp's cause, especially in Australia, as they had large amounts of forests already at their disposal.
According to the website of Western Australian Company Hemp Resources Ltd, they intend to produce 100% hemp paper and hemp blend paper in Western Australia as soon as commercial growing areas are realised and the company’s paper mills constructed.
Seeded paper - Seed embedded paper containing seeds of Australian native trees and shrubs (typically Bottlebrush) - 100% recycled (apart from the seeds!) It’s ideal for promotions, fliers, invitations, Christmas cards. read it... plant it... watch it grow. Paper-Go-Round is Australia's source of Seeded paper.
Stone paper - Made from stone grind (calcium carbonate) and non toxic resins. No water or bleaching is used to make it, and it can be recycled up to 8 times. It's photodegradable once discarded. The only downside is that stone paper can't be recycled along with tree fibre paper. However one company making stone paper, TerraSkin say it can be recycled by converting used paper into pellets which can then be used in the production of colored paper. Stone paper is available in Australia from Via Stone Paper.
Sugar Cane paper - Harvest Recycled paper is manufactured using 60% sugar cane fibre and chlorine free bleaching, but also contains pulp from sustainable afforestation. The sugar cane (bagasse – the material remaining after sugar has been extracted) fibre is sourced from the immediate vicinity of the mill – requires minimum transportation. All pulp used is bleached using an Elemental Chlorine Free (ECF) process.
The wood fibre used in Harvest Recycled is sourced from internationally certified Well Managed Forests and accredited through independent third party Chain of Custody (CoC) certification. Available in Australia from Raleigh Paper.
Wheat Straw is being used to make paper products in the rural Western Australian town of Moora. The founder of River House, a small WA company, claims that a wood pulp mill costs five times as much as a straw pulp plant and uses 10 times as much energy. Furthermore, it takes 5 tonnes of wood to make one tonne of pulp, but only 1.5 tonnes of straw pulp. River House's new wheat straw pulp mill is set to produce five percent of our locally-made cardboard boxes.
Cereal Paper Temora NSW farmer-environmentalist Ian Thompson has begun a small business making paper from either cereal straw or pin rushes. Ian reduces the grasses to a pulp and presses them into paper to produce quality business cards and wedding invites.
Banana Paper The Costa Rica Natural Paper Company with its partner the major central American paper manufacturer The Simam Group, has formed the Costa Rica Natural Paper Company, which produces 100 percent recycled paper made from 95% post-consumer paper fibre and 5% banana stalks. College students grow, harvest and process the banana stalks. The end products include recycled staionery, notepads, journals, cards, boxes, art supplies and envelopes. There is no residual banana smell, but the texture is smooth and appearance very attractive. The high quality office papers can be used in printers and copiers. - E Magazine, Feb '97. Papyrus Australia has also begun making banana paper.
Poo Paper There are a number of small manufactures of 'poo' paper throughout the world. In Tasmania you can currently buy paper made from Kangaroo poo made by Creative Paper Tasmania. Approximately 25kg of kangaroo manure makes 400 sheets of paper, which is becoming a souveneer of choice for tourists. In Scandinavia, elk poo paper is the stationery of choice in most offices, and elephant poo paper, manufactured from 75% post consumer waste and 25% elephant dung is collected by the elephant handlers in Sri Lanka and provides an extra source of income for the locals to care for the elephants. "Ellie Poo" paper is available from the Green Stationery Co in the UK.
Beer Paper Manufactured using hops, malt, yeast and beer labels. 40% to 60% beer labels, 5% to 20% beer fibres, 30% to 50% TCF pulp. A strong paper with a speckled finish. "Bier Paper" is available from the Green Stationery Co in the UK.
Greenwashing of Paper Products
Many products are now being labelled as 'green' even though they still have negative environmental impacts on the environment. The same goes for paper. All paper is recyclable, so paper labelled 'recyclable' is not necessarily green. True green paper should be 100% recycled, have a high post-consumer waste content and not contain any native forest fibre.
Some paper companies are labelling their paper 'carbon neutral' as the carbon emmissions in the production process have been measured and offset. This is all very well, but if the paper contains native forest fibre, simply leaving the native forest in the ground to absorb carbon would be much more helpful to our environment!
Which Printing is Better for The Environment?
Choosing which printing is best for the environment depends on the size of your project. For smaller print runs less than 1000 sheets, digital printing would be a more sustainable choice as it creates less waste than offset printing. This means you won't have access to 'vegetable based ink' which is used in offset printing (that uses oil as a carrier for the ink) however overall the process would be more energy efficient and use less paper.
Offset printing is a traditional printing method that uses metal plates to transfer ink onto a rubber blanket, which then applies the ink to the printing surface (usually paper). It's known for its high quality and accuracy in reproducing colours.
Environmental Benefits of Offset Printing:
Economies of Scale: Offset printing becomes more environmentally friendly when used for large print runs. Once set up, it can produce high volumes efficiently, reducing the environmental impact per printed piece. This makes it ideal for bulk printing, such as magazines and catalogs.
Access to Sustainable Inks: Many offset printers now use eco-friendly, vegetable-based inks or low-VOC inks, reducing the emission of harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the atmosphere. These inks are less polluting and safer for workers.
Recyclable Plates: Offset printing plates are typically made of aluminum, which is highly recyclable. Recycling plates reduces the demand for raw materials and energy, further lowering the environmental footprint.
Long-Lasting Results: Offset prints often have better longevity compared to digital prints, reducing the need for reprints and associated resources. This is especially important for items like books, packaging, and promotional materials.
Digital printing is a modern, on-demand printing method that directly transfers digital files to the printing surface without the need for plates or setup. It's known for its flexibility and quick turnaround times.
Environmental Benefits of Digital Printing:
Reduced Waste: Digital printing allows for shorter print runs and print-on-demand, which means there is less overproduction and waste of printed materials. This minimizes the disposal of unused or obsolete printed products.
Minimal Chemical Usage: Unlike offset printing, digital printing doesn't require the use of chemicals in the plate-making process, reducing chemical waste and potential environmental contamination.
Energy Efficiency: Digital presses often have shorter warm-up times and faster production speeds for small to medium print runs. This can result in lower energy consumption compared to offset presses, especially for short-run jobs.
Variable Data Printing: Digital printing enables variable data printing, where each printed piece can be customized with unique content. This reduces the need for preprinted materials and decreases waste associated with obsolescent information.
Both offset and digital printing have their environmental benefits, depending on the specific printing requirements. Offset printing is more eco-friendly for large print runs and when using sustainable inks and recycling plates. Digital printing excels in minimising waste, energy consumption, and the use of chemicals, making it a greener choice for short-run, on-demand, or customized printing jobs. Ultimately, the choice between the two print types should consider the project's scale, turnaround time, and environmental goals.
Waterless printing is an innovative and environmentally friendly offset printing process that differs from traditional offset printing in its approach to ink and water management. In waterless printing, water is not used as a part of the printing process, hence the name "waterless." Instead, it relies on silicone rubber-coated printing plates and specially formulated inks to achieve high-quality prints.
Environmental Benefits of Waterless Printing:
- Reduced Water Usage: As the name suggests, one of the primary environmental benefits of waterless printing is the elimination of water from the printing process. This significantly reduces water consumption, making it an eco-friendly option.
- Less Waste: Waterless printing often generates less waste, as there is no need for dampening solution or fountain solutions that need to be disposed of after use.
- Precise Colour Reproduction: Waterless printing can achieve very precise colour reproduction due to the absence of water, which can dilute and alter ink colours in traditional offset printing
- High Print Quality: Waterless printing is known for producing high-quality prints with sharp images, fine details, and vibrant colours. The absence of water allows for precise control over ink placement and colour consistency.
- Shorter Setup Times: Waterless printing can have shorter setup times compared to traditional offset printing since there is no need to balance ink and water ratios or deal with a dampening system.
While waterless printing offers significant environmental benefits in terms of reduced water usage and waste generation, it may not be suitable for all printing applications due to its specialised requirements and equipment. It is often used for high-quality, short-run printing jobs, such as packaging, labels, and high-end promotional materials, where colour accuracy and environmental considerations are paramount.
The Environmental Impact of Inks in Printing
Traditional mineral oil-based inks and solvent-based inks release emissions harmful to human health and the environment. These emissions known as Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are a group of organic chemicals that can easily evaporate into the air at room temperature. While they are naturally present in the environment and play a role in various natural processes, the excessive release of VOCs due to human activities such as printing can have significant negative impacts on both the environment and human health. Today, many printers have switched their technology to ink with lower emissions from VOC's (volatile organic compounds) such as VOC-free inks, water-based inks, and vegetable oil-based inks. Which ink you choose will depend on your project and the size of the print run.
The oil in The percentage of carrier oil in offset printing ink can vary depending on the specific ink formulation and manufacturer. On average, the carrier oil in offset printing ink typically ranges from about 40% to 60% of the ink's total composition. This percentage includes both the primary carrier oil and any other additives or modifiers used in the ink formulation.
Offset Printing Inks:
Mineral oil based Ink
Traditional mineral oil based inks contain hazardous substances such as petroleum hydrocarbons which release volatile organic compounds (VOC's) when drying, causing air pollution. Cadmium, mercury, chromium (which are hazardous heavy metals used in pigments for colouring); or solvents are also used as a carrier or to aid in drying. The use of mineral oil based inks also means that solvents are required to clean the printing press after use - resulting in more VOC's being released into the atmosphere.
Vegetable based Ink
Vegetable based inks are manufactured from a renewable resource, usually soy or linseed oil. They are comparable in price and performance to high quality mineral oil based inks, and are therefore in much wider use in recent times.
Vegetable based ink reduces the amount volatile organic compounds released into the atmosphere during printing. Plate cleaning is able to be done without solvents, using a water based cleaner. Vegetable based ink does not contain hazardous heavy metals, and creates a healthier workplace for printing staff. Printing with vegetable based inks means that this paper is also easier to recyle, and less toxic residue is emmitted as waste.
VOC Free Ink
New printing technology now exists that allows for ink that does not emit VOC's in the print process. This ink is not 'vegetable based' however it doesn't emit VOC compounds, is quick drying and saves water.
Digital Printing Inks:
Digital printing offers several environmentally friendly ink options, with the choice of ink having a significant impact on the environmental footprint. Here are some common types of eco-friendly ink used in digital printing:
Water-based inks are among the most environmentally friendly. They contain minimal or no harmful chemicals and emit very low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Water-based inks are non-toxic, biodegradable, and energy-efficient.
V-curable inks emit fewer VOCs compared to solvent-based inks. They cure quickly with UV light, reducing energy consumption. They are versatile and can be used on various materials.
Solvent-Based Ink (Eco-Solvent and Mild Solvent):
Eco-solvent and mild solvent inks are improved versions of traditional solvent inks. They emit fewer VOCs, making them better for air quality. They also offer good outdoor durability.
Which Printer Should I Choose?
This may depend on the size and scope of your job. For smaller print runs under 1000 sheets, you may be better off using a digital printer over an offset printer. You should choose a printer that consider the environment a genuine priority accross all of their practices. If you're looking for a green printer in Australia, I've created a directory here: Australian Green Printer's Directory. Printers are improving their practices all the time so this is not extensive. Any printer can contact me if they would like to appear in the directory and there is no cost to be listed. Printers wishing to be listed need to let me know exactly what they are doing to make the environment a priority accross their printing operation in order to be listed.
If you got this far...
It's been heartening to see the positive changes made to the paper industry over the years since I started this page. I hope to continue to provide a gathering of resources to assist people to make informed choices. As environmental awareness grows & the world shifts to a low-carbon economy, the paper industry is subject to much change, hopefully for the better.
By staying informed and making better choices, we can all contribute to making a difference together.