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The Green Room: Alternative Fibers

(originally published in Stationery Trends)

“What do you have that’s recycled?” 

As one of the largest sources of fine art papers in the world, we are asked this question almost daily.  Unfortunately, we’ve all become so used to asking for recycled or PCW papers that we overlook other alternatives, each with their own levels of “eco-friendliness”.   Some will sound exotic but are readily available and affordable.

Many of the most durable and energy efficient papers don’t begin with a tree in the first place.  While trees can take decades to grow, most tree-free fibers grow seasonally.  There are many alternative fiber papers available to those willing to step out of the box.  Bamboo, cork, cotton, hemp, mulberry and even stone (yes, stone) are just some of the options available to you.

Cotton is probably the most familiar of the tree-free fibers and with good reason.  From a quality standpoint, no other fiber yields paper with such a luxurious feel and unique texture.  This becomes obvious to you (and your client) the moment your fingers touch the surface.  What’s more, cotton paper is much stronger than wood-pulp based papers and won’t yellow over time.

Aside from being a highly renewable plant, it’s interesting to note that the cotton used to manufacture the papers is not the cotton used in clothing, but rather the linters - a byproduct of the textile industry that may otherwise be discarded and end up in a landfill.  This recovered material is salvaged and used to create our cotton papers.  Recycled cotton, from discarded garments for example, is also available further reducing the impact.

A less familiar example is paper made from the Mulberry plant.  Used for generations as the primary source for Japanese papers, its extra-strong fibers are used to produce some of the most elegant stationery (and artist) papers in the world.   The fibers are taken from the bark of a living plant that continues to grow well after you’ve turned it into an invitation or greeting card.

Aside from the source of the fibers, another factor that often goes unnoticed is the amount of energy used to produce paper.  During the papermaking process, many tree-free papers utilize less water, chemical processing and energy than their wood-based counterparts.  Every little bit helps.

We all understand that there is no perfect eco-friendly solution.  Every paper comes with pros and cons with respect to its environmental impact.  (Mulberry, for example, has to be transported from Asia.)  Do your best to get all the information and share it with your customers.  It is important to let them balance their definition of “green” with their aesthetic and their budget.  As an example, I often get asked for our most environmentally friendly paper.  My reply is to present a gorgeous handmade recycled-cotton paper, dried by the sun.  When shown the cost, the client usually asks for something a “little less eco-friendly”.  It’s important to find a balance.

When choosing paper for your next project, don’t be afraid to move out of your comfort zone and explore the myriad of options available to you.  From US-grown cotton papers to fast-growing bamboo we're sure you'll find a paper that meets your eco-friendly needs.