By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

As you might guess, I’m a folder not a crusher. I’ve been delicately sliding gifts out of their festive dress and folding the useable remains for so many years, it’s instinctive.

(Photo: Fresh Press)

The bows go in a bag to be reused. Paper gets folded and smoothed, destined to wrap increasingly smaller packages in future years. Gift bags are handled respectfully. Without telltale writing they can soldier on for years. Same for a few sturdy gift boxes, courtesy of a friend who used to send Harry and David. Those come out every year. And we remember our departed friend fondly.

At one time, all this anal retentive fussing made me seem like a nut, a wrapping-paper-saver hoarder, ready for a profile on that reality show about people who stash stuff away until they can’t walk in their house.

There’s no doubt that saving holiday wrap, or skipping holiday wrap, is a relatively small contribution to reducing paper waste. We can take bigger steps by moving to electronic books and newspapers, calling it quits with paper towels, printing on both sides of our printer paper and using recycled variants whenever we can.

But why not be wise with all kinds of paper? Its production is stealing our cover: The forests that absorb carbon pollution and mitigate climate change.

A recent report by the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) showed that forest loss is slowing in some regions, like China, where replanting has replaced tree cover. Still, the continued loss of virgin forests in the tropics and some temperate regions, is stripping indigenous people of their livelihoods, endangering wildlife like orangutans and pushing us all closer to the cliff of irreversible climate change.

One solution to deforestation is to examine whether we even need to use trees for paper.

At the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design Eric Benson and collaborators are questioning the assumption that trees make the best paper. They’re working to save forests by using agricultural waste and/or crops for paper products.

Benson’s blog Fresh Press explains that their “agri-fiber papermaking” lab could

Forest losses have stabilized in some regions, but continue dramatic declines in parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, Australia and South America.

help revive the agrarian economy in East Central Illinois, while reducing the impact of paper consumption at the university. Local people and farmers would work producing paper made of plant waste in processes tested at the university, which would also be the big end user of the new product.

This plan to connect the dots within the local economy, creating jobs and fulfilling needs, could be replicated elsewhere. And already, Benson and Purdue University graduate student Yvette Perullo have started a website, ReNourish, to help creative types think more creatively about the paper they’re using.

These endeavors are noteworthy, not just because they’re pushing out new ideas, but because those ideas come from an arena that’s often been silent on consumption issues. These are graphic designers and artist types are waking up to issues around the materials they use — issues that once only troubled those in ecological studies.

That’s the sort of thinking we all need to employ, within our own spheres of influence, be it a household or a corporation.

So before you rip and tear this holiday, read Benson’s collection of fact nuggets, reprinted here:

Why not just use trees?

Here are some facts that make it clear that we should investigate agri-fiber as a viable alternative to wood-fiber.

  • 25% of all manmade carbon emissions come from deforestation (Environmental Paper Network, 2010)
  • 62.7% of carbon emissions from publishing industry come from deforestation (Green Press Initiative, 2010)
  • Forests serve as an essential part of carbon sequestration. Storing 50% of terrestrial carbon stocks. (Environmental Paper Network, 2010)
  • Canadian Boreal Forest Range is one of the world’s largest in tact forests, however the paper industry removes 2.5 million acres annually. (Environmental Paper Network, 2010)
  • Canadian Boreal Forest Range stores 47.5 billion tons of terrestrial carbon (7-11% of the world’s) (Greenpeace, 2010)
  • Each year five million North American acres of land are logged. 75% are old growth trees (Environmental Paper Network, 2010)
  • Recycled paper mills reduce energy consumption by 44%, net greenhouse gas emissions by 38%, wastewater by 50% (Environmental Defense Fund, 2010)

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