The myth of paperless

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Time and again misguided and misinformed environmentalists try too tell us that we should all ditch paper for digital and go paperless and they claim that that would save millions of trees and the rainforests.

But, just pause for a moment and think. Where does most wood for the paper mills come from? No, not from “virgin” forests and not at all from the tropical rainforests. The wood of the latter is hardwood which is unsuitable for paper pulp, for starters.

Most wood for paper pulp comes from softwoods, and this also includes, in many places one or two deciduous tree species, such as birch and poplar. The great majority of trees grown for paper, if not indeed all of them, come from managed sources and the great majority from forests that are owned and manages by the paper companies.

If we would all stop using paper what would happen to those trees? It is a little like people believing that we all would become vegetarians or even vegan that all those farm animals currently raised for meat would have such a great life. Like the animals who would be destroyed if all the world would turn vegetarian or vegan those trees would be grubbed out and the land would be used for other purposes if there would no longer be a demand for paper and paper products.

There are millions of acres of trees worldwide that are grown with but one purpose, namely the production of paper. And those millions of acres of trees, when felled for paper pulp, are replanted and this constant rotation provides some of the best carbon sequestration possible.

The fact is that if all of us would go paperless and thus there would no longer be a market for paper products, be those books, newspapers, magazines, or what-have-you we would be the poorer for it as far as forest cover is concerned.

It is true, however, that it would be best if many of those forests grown for paper would be converted to mixed deciduous woods where possible as those give us much better forest products in the end than the conifers that are grown for paper pulp.

Then again there are marginal lands that can grow that kind of timber well while they cannot support broadleaved trees or agriculture.

Paper, whether for writing or for books will remain whatever certain people would like to think and hope and this is a good thing. But, we must not waste this either and when it comes to paper there are other plants that can provide a better pulp material still, such as hemp and, though I do not think that it has been tried as yet, maybe even stinging nettles.

Stinging nettle is a fibrous material that was used in days gone by, including the First World War to make canvas and other cloth. The clothing used by the British Iceni tribe during the time of the Roman occupation of the British Isles. Thus it may be suitable, though, as said, I do not know whether it has been tried as yet, to use it for the making of paper. Hemp, we all know, has been used for paper before.

In fact there was a time when it was reckoned that hemp could be used to replace the base material for the making of paper instead of wood pulp but then some bright spark decided to, basically, outlaw the growing of hemp as it is cannabis sativa and I believe that that answers the question as to why.

Going paperless will not save trees, to be honest. The opposite rather might be true. There are always two sides to a story and it is good to see both sides.

© 2012