Tree-Free Paper - When Is It Good for the Environment?

Lead Author: Dr. Jim Bowyer

Publish date: 09.02.2004

 

From the earliest colonial times to the early part of the twentieth century, 2.1 acres of American forest were converted to agriculture for every person added to the population. Globally, conversion to agricultural uses is still the number one cause of deforestation today. Currently, both hemp and kenaf are being offered as alternates to wood fiber in the manufacture of paper and similar products. Both of these materials are produced in mono-cultural, annual rotation, agricultural systems referred to as "dedicated crops." This paper explores the environmental issues surrounding the use of dedicated crops, in comparison to wood, as an industrial raw material. There are two key issues to consider with these materials: net productivity of the land and the direct environmental impacts associated with fiber production. Evidence suggests that the negative environmental impacts of commercial production of hemp and kenaf fiber can be greater than those attributed to the production of wood fiber. In addition, commercial production of these alternate materials potentially increases the land area required for agriculture, a need that is generally met by the conversion of forestland and other natural environments.