Pulp Fiction:The Selling of Industrial Papermaking

by Lincoln Cushing

In June of 1998 I took my two kids to a hands-on exhibit of papermaking at the Lawrence Hall of Science, a major public museum in Berkeley. There was a climb-through model "papermill playslide", colorful question-and-answer panels on papermaking through the ages, a demonstration de-inking chamber, and a worktable for creating a swatch of paper from pulp. What I did not expect to find was a pervasive public relations job on the benefits of the modern papermaking industry. The information presented in the exhibit was flawed in both material presented and by material omitted. The most offensive portion was the prominently displayed bank of brochures. These include such nuggets of scientific fact as "In fact, many forests might not exist in the first place if trees weren't planted and harvested by industry". It takes from 10-20 years for trees to grow until they are large enough for harvesting. In that time, those trees are part of a community of plants and animals and their environment space known as an ecosystem."

Such flashy paid advertising would normally be seen at a county fair or a trade show, not at a public museum affiliated with a major educational institution. It is a sad state of affairs that institutions like LHS are so hamstrung by funding and staffing cutbacks that such a prepackaged exhibit, with no professional review, can be presented as science. I was so disturbed by the pro-industry bias of the exhibit that I contacted the director of exhibits and complained. She apologized for the oversight, and agreed to produce a pair of display panels presenting information that balanced the exhibit. I researched the topics, contacted organizations active in those areas, and wrote material. Time was running out, since the exhibit was ending at the end of August. Finally the information went up, but the two 13x24" panels on earth-toned recycled and tree-free paper have a hard time competing with the flash and sheer size of the 2,000 square foot exhibit. This sort of aggressive public relations should not go unchallenged, especially when oriented towards children and young adults. I encourage any and all of you to demand greater accountability from your local museums.

-Lincoln Cushing c/o Inkworks Press, inkworks@igc.org (510) 845-7111

The Sponsor and the Exhibit

The exhibit was a creation of the Robert C. Williams American Museum of Papermaking at the Institute of Paper Science and Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. The institute is a private graduate research university dedicated to the informational needs of the pulp and paper industry; the exhibit also enjoyed sponsorship by TAPPI, the Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry. This exhibit is called "Paper Quest", and is the first venue of a tour which iincluded the Evansville Museum of Arts and Sciences in Evansville, Indiana. A companion exhibit, "A Child's View of Papermaking", was at the Imaginarium in Waterloo, Iowa and proceeded to the Children's Museum of Houston.

This is the information presented in the panels:

More About Paper Making "Recycled" vs. "Post Consumer"

Not all "recycled" papers are the same; even now few papers contain very much pulp that has been previously used by the consumer. Over the past few years, the guidelines for identifying recycled papers have changed considerably. Paper labeling now requires that paper be identified by the percentage of pulp used that is "recycled" and "post consumer." "Recycled" pulp can include such materials as lumber mill sawdust and scraps from manufacturing envelopes; "post consumer" is pulp from paper that has actually been used, such as paper collected in office recycling bins. A large portion (as much as 53%*) of pulp used for paper still comes directly from trees. Even with the increased use of recycled pulp, some studies indicate that the demand for pulp, paper, and paperboard accounts for nearly half of total industrial roundwood consumption worldwide. One reason that statistics differ on how much of the pulp comes directly from trees is that some groups include the use of lumber "co-products" (such as wood chips and mill residues) and others do not. Factoring in all wood used, the pulp and paper industry emerges as the single largest industrial wood consumer in the U.S. and the world.

Pulp Bleaching

Although most U.S. mills use chlorine to bleach paper pulp, there are alternative processes. The use of elemental chlorine to bleach paper pulp produces dangerous chemicals such as dioxin, which when released into waterways is a source of carcinogenic pollution. Several countries in Europe have adopted a method of bleaching pulp using hydrogen peroxide, which is more environmentally benign. Tree Farms Tree farms are created to maximize tree growth for pulp. These farms often contain trees that are all the same age and species, spaced for optimal growth, and use pesticides and herbicides. Tree farms are not as rich an environment as a natural forest. A true ecosystem is composed of many different and interdependent types of plants and animals.

Alternative Fibers

Fibers from plants other than trees may also be used for paper production. Before wood pulp became widely used in the late 1800s, agricultural plants were the dominant source of fiber for paper. Cotton, straw, and hemp were the fibers of choice. Currently, non-woods constitute less than 1% of the U.S. fiber supply. Alternative fibers offer several advantages as a source of pulp: * Many of these fibers are naturally low in lignin, the substance that gives plants rigidity. For the paper maker this means that the fibers can be processed with fewer chemicals, less water, and less energy.

* The percentage of usable fiber in these plants is higher than in wood.

* Their growth rate is faster.

* Some alternative fibers can be grown in regions where trees cannot.

* Some are forms of agricultural "waste," which otherwise would be burned or discarded.

Learn More About It

The information presented on this panel was developed by Lincoln Cushing of Inkworks Press in Berkeley, California, and is presented as an independent supplement to A Child's View of Papermaking. The following reference material was used:

*United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

The U.S. Paper Industry and Sustainable Production, Maureen Smith, MIT Press, 1997.

1997 North American Pulp and Paper Fact Book.

"The Administration Crumples Over 'Green' Paper," Business Week, September 5, 1993.

"Dioxin Study Spurs Plea for Restrictions," The Washington Post, September 14, 1994

World Watch Magazine, March 1998.

To find out more about the paper making industry, visit your school or local library; or browse the Internet.

Organizations involved in improving the environmental impact of paper production

Rethink Paper Flood Bldg., 870 Market St. #1011, SF CA 94102 ph (415) 398-2433, fax (415) 398-2635, rtp@earthisland.org, http://www.rethinkpaper.org/ contact- Aaron Lehmer; Researches and promotes alternative (more ecologically sound) fibers

Greenpeace 588 Howard St., SF CA 94105 ph (415) 512-9025, fx 512-8699 contact- Mark Evans Challenges paper industry logging and processing practices

Conservatree 100 2nd Ave., SF CA 94118 ph (415) 883-6264 http://www.conservatree.com contact- Susan Kinsella; Promotes clear labeling standards for recycled papers, lobbies for increased post-consumer content, provides information on available paper options

Chlorine-Free Products Association ph (847) 658-6104, fx 658-3152 contact- Archie Beaton; Supports paper production which does not use chlorine bleaching

Recycled Paper Coalition c/o Penninsula Conservation Center Foundation 3921 East Bayshore Rd. Palo Alto, CA 94303 ph (650) 985-5568 fax (650) 962-8234 rpc@igc.org contact - Darby Hoover; Strives to create a sustained demand for recycled paper and send a signal to the marketplace

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related article Modern Industrial Papermaking and its Consequences for Librarians and Archivists

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updated 4/23/2021