Environotes

While shopping for notebooks at Cornell University’s bookstore yesterday I came across a brand that I hadn’t seen before. The cover of the dark, forest-green notebook said “Environotes sustainable paper products” in the lower right corner, and a removable card-stock label declared the paper to be a “green” product.

I was somewhat skeptical, because I know how many trees are cut down in the US to provide Americans with paper (about a billion a year) and the only sustainable mass-produced paper I’d ever seen was the banana leaf paper sold in Central America.

Then I saw that the one of the companies behind the notebooks was called Cane Fields, and that the paper was not only made from sugar cane fiber, but the fiber left over from the sugar-making process. This reduces landfill waste, is recyclable, and saves trees! To make it even better, the manufacturing process is powered by wind and biomass renewable energy, doesn’t use acid or chlorine bleaches, and is carbon-neutral through carbon trading. Needless to say, I purchased one of these notebooks, and got a 3-subject one to save space.

I’m glad that the Cornell Store carries these sorts of products; just today when I stopped back at the Store to get small pocket notepads, I found notebooks made by one of Cane Fields’ partners, Roaring Spring Paper Products. With 60 sheets of recycled 5″ by 3″ paper, the so-called “little green book” has a nice little recycling symbol on the front. I bought two.

4 thoughts on “Environotes

  1. Interesting post and respectfullyl, I disagree. I’m not sure you fully understand the nature of the sustainability of the forests in developed nations. In North America there are more trees now than there were a century ago, according to the USDA. No question that the paper industry utilizes a lot of wood, but in the same way that the sugar cane fiber is a residue from harvesting sugar, much of the wood that goes into making paper is the residue from first pulling out timber from trees that is suitable for making furniture and homes. Not to mention that the paper industry for years has burned off other waste products from harvesting trees (like bark) to power the paper mills. Only recently has this practice been given any sort of press as such procedures qualified under recently passed laws aimed at increasing the reliance on non-traditional liquid fuels (like ethanol). Lo and behold, the paper industry has been using bio-fuel for the better part of a century. Do a google search for ‘black liquor tax credit’ and you can read all about it.

    I would say without question that any paper produced in North America or Western Europe is produced sustainably. If more trees weren’t planted than are taken out of the ground, we would’ve run out of trees decades ago. Trees, like wheat and cotton and soybeans, are a crop – an important one – and the lumber industry fully understands that.

    One of the biggest misconceptions out there is that if we stop using paper, then no more trees will be cut down. Not the case at all. Landowners own the land to make money off of it. If they can’t sell a crop – whether it be corn or carrots or trees – they’ll figure out a way to make money. Often times that means development, which means clearcutting and no more sustainable forestry. No one is suggesting that we recycle the crusts of our bread to save the wheat fields. Suggesting that we stop buying paper that contains wood fiber would be just as silly.

    • One, that tree replacement is mostly old growth and diverse systems being replaced with tens of thousands of hectares of slash pine monocrops. Which are being devastated right now because they discourage diversity, allowing pine beetles to destroy most of the replanted North American and increasingly Canadian stock. If whole forests being replaced by a single species which still has a longer maturation time than cane and hemp, is an active discourager of undergrowth and therefore fauna, and a lower amount of paper-bound fiber than any other crop sounds sustainable to you, we have very divergent opinions on sustainability.

      And we do suggest recycling bread crusts to save fields – through composting (though that’s more the soil). We’re suggesting we stop using a resource intensive tree crop that destroys biodiversity and instead use easier, quicker growing and more useable for paper as a portion of their total biomass crops instead.

  2. Thanks for the comment, WhereTheFunIs. Do you have a sense of how energy intensive it is to make paper from sugar cane versus making paper from trees? I’m curious as to why you would say sugar cane fiber is ‘easier’. I would argue the other way as it is very difficult to get sugar cane fiber to a brightness or cleaniliness level that is acceptable for most commercial print jobs. I would say that getting hemp or sugar cane clean and bright is also very energy intensive.

    Also, while I generally agree with your comments about mono-species fields, that’s a practice that lumber industry has moved away from in the last 20 or so years. Obviously, you can’t unring a bell. So, tree mono-species farms that were planted in the 1950s continue to be mono-species farms. But FSC certification and other similar sustainable forestry initiatives condemn such practices.

    And as I noted before, much of the wood that goes into pulp mills is the byproduct of the construction industry. At present I’m unaware of any reasonably priced housing made from hemp or sugar cane. So, what would the preferred use of that waste wood be? I say pulp it and make it into paper.

    While using sugar cane and hemp is certainly fine with me (although as I noted in my original comment, reducing the amount of wood used in paper will not reduce the number of trees cut down), the reality is that North America (and the rest of the industrialized world with the exception of India where sugar cane is primarily turned into newsprint – not high end printing grades or tissue grades) lacks the capital equipment to produce quantities of hemp and sugar cane fiber needed to meet the demands of the current utilization of paper, even if you discount commercial printing and look only at tissue and personal products that utilize paper. Taking the sugar cane to a pulp mill that utilizes wood pulp doesn’t work as the processes to convert wood to pulp are rather different than turning sugar cane into pulp. So, there is a very, very large capital investment needed to even consider large scale commercialization of sugar cane or hemp.

    I will finish with a quote: “When you go into a lumber yard, you’re given the impression that by buying wood you’re causing the forest to be lost, when in fact what you’re doing is sending a signal into the market to plant more trees. That’s why there’s just about the same area of forest in the United States today as there was a hundred years ago. And that’s why there’s no more land being used for agriculture today than there was a hundred years ago. It’s because of high-yield agriculture.” – Greenpeace cofounder and former director Patrick Moore, April 30, 2002, available at http://www.hudson.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=publication_details&id=1585

    I’d like to think my thoughts on sustainability fall in line with Dr. Moore’s. Using trees responsibily isn’t a bad thing. And we should stop thinking that it is.

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