Even though we’ve long since moved the majority of business into the digital world, paper has remained an essential part of our lives, whether it’s for textbooks, documentation or simply having something to write your shopping list on.
That being said, the ecological implications of paper usage are definitely visible, and it’s more than evident that certain changes had to be made, and while recycled paper can do the trick, it’s not enough to save the planet.
This is why we’re slowly moving onto more advanced practices that aim to save trees, and numerous alternatives to plant-based paper have been created, giving you the chance to contribute to this great cause without too much effort.
Keep reading to learn more about what paper alternatives you can incorporate in your daily writing tasks, and if you’re running a business you may just be able to completely abandon paper for a much more eco-friendly option.
A glaring issue
Due to how widespread its use is, as well as the fact that it’s literally produced by cutting down countless trees, the paper may just be the least sustainable material that we’re still using on a daily basis.
Of course, there are plastics and other pollutants, but paper production is directly contributing to global warming through severe deforestation, and even though recycled paper production plants have been around for decades, they’re not producing enough to offset the damage that’s been done.
Millions of trees are cut down every year for the sake of paper production, and even if we account for the many trees that paper companies plant in order to compensate for the losses, a tree can take decades to grow to full height, and we haven’t exactly got all the time in the world.
Paper production doesn’t necessarily contribute to pollution, but the amount of impact it has on air quality and deforestation shouldn’t be overlooked.
Popularized a decade or so ago, bagasse is a material that can be used in paper production, and unlike standard paper, bagasse is made from sugar cane plump, which is much more sustainable than the trees we normally use in this process.
This mass is what remains after all the juice is squeezed from the sugar cane, meaning that it’s a product that would normally be discarded anyways, yet we’ve found a use for it and a fairly good one at that.
With the high amount of cellulose that remains in this pulp, bagasse makes for a perfect material in the paper production industry, and we’d do well to contribute to the development of this process, as it essentially kicks recycled paper out of the water.
While not normally used for the production of textbooks, bagasse is regularly used for newspapers, tissues, packaging boxes, and just about any paper-adjacent product that you run into every day.
A few more years of use will tell just how effective it is at replacing actual paper though.
Unlike bagasse, bamboo paper is made by sourcing the plant directly rather than using leftovers from a different process, but because of how quickly and easily bamboo grows in various climates, it’s a highly sustainable material.
However, unlike the aforementioned material, bamboo paper is much fitter for recycling, and the high quality of it means that strength, brightness, and printability are all an entire tier above most paper alternatives on the market.
It’s already being used in a number of industries, although it does have to undergo a bleaching process in order to be fit for typing and offset printing paper, whereas nonbleached alternatives have found their place in the packaging industry, being used for boxes, wrapping paper, and decorations.
Finally, we have quite the strange one, as stone paper as a concept alone sounds practically impossible and somewhat oxymoronic, yet it works just as well as any other alternative.
As the name suggests, it’s made by mixing a finely ground calcium carbonate powder bonded together with high-density resin, which makes it one of the less eco-friendly options out there, although it’s certainly the most sustainable one, as it doesn’t require any plant to be produced.
The issue lies in the fact that stone paper isn’t biodegradable, although it can be composted and even recycled into the same product several times over.
In practice, it works incredibly well with inkjet printers, but it does fall short when it comes to laser printers, meaning that it is likely going to remain as an alternative solely for those who need paper to write on with ink.
The paper industry has created a major issue that we as a species are likely going to be battling for many more decades, but with all the technological advancements we’ve made, it seems to be a battle in our favor.
Several alternatives to wood-based paper have already been created and are being used regularly, with dozens more still in the works, and if we manage to completely remove our dependency on trees for this wondrous material, we could begin saving the planet one step at a time.