06 May 2010

eco paper

Take a moment's pause and think about the amount of paper all around you. Everything that is packaged uses some from of it. Today there are so many kinds of it with a multitude of uses. It's hard to imagine that it started off so humbly - when someone in ancient Egypt used papyrus to write upon.

The closest link to modern day paper-making is from China. In the 13th century it spread from China and entered medieval Europe where water-powered paper mills were built. This introduced the mechanization of paper-making and soon mills increased their capacities which made paper readily available. The paper business started to boom with the invention of the printing press and hasn't slackened since.

Paper was most commonly made with wood, silk and cotton pulp. Today most printing grade paper is made exclusively with wood pulp. This fact alone does not make paper unsustainable and like anything else, the sustainability 'quotient' or 'factor' has a lot to do with the whole life-cycle.However, the perceived lack of sustainability of paper has led to many innovations and some of them are very creative

My first encounter with alternate paper came from the Auroville Press in Pondicherry, India who make excellent hand-made paper with vegetable fibers and no toxic dyes. Recently I have been reading a lot about paper made from elephant dung which was a process started in Sri Lanka and India. The power of globalization is such that my first encounter with it happened to be in the UC Davis campus bookstore!

This innovative idea started in Sri Lankan elephant sanctuaries and profits from sales were pumped back into taking care of abandoned/abused elephants. Haathi Chap in India and PooPoo Paper in America use the same method to make writing paper from elephant dung. In the same store, I also encountered banana paper made from banana fibers. In the same method, paper can also be made from bamboo, hemp and other sources. Bamboo is supposedly the most sustainable source as it is a fast-growing grass.

Hand-made paper has a nice texture and feel, making it ideal for photo-albums, scrap-books, invitations, greeting cards etc. It requires very little embellishing to make it look ornate. Improvements with organic dyeing technology means that it is available in pretty much any colour. Some are even made with embedded flower petals and are scented. Think of a more sustainable alternative for your paper needs the next time. With Mother's day around the corner; perhaps a hand-made, eco-friendly paper card expresses the proper sentiment to mothers everywhere.

Photos: Akhila Vijayaraghavan ©


Ramesh said...

Yes, alternate forms of paper are easily embraceable . The additional cost is also perhaps marginal. Wonder if such paper can be produced on scale though, to make a difference.

Akhila Vijayaraghavan said...

It's all economies of scale isn't it? Right now wood-based paper holds such a huge market that alternate forms can barely compete on that level.

Also there are additional issues like using alternate paper for fine-printing needs - the technology just isn't in place yet.

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