Straw paper facts speak volumes

Many countries around the world have been making paper with straw for hundreds of years. Today, 8% – 10% of paper globally is made from “agri-fibers” [1]. India and China currently produce 20% of their paper from wheat straw, rice straw and sugar cane stocks.

North America’s vast agricultural heartlands are untapped resources for this paper fibre. Every year millions of tons of agricultural residue, like wheat straw, rye, sorghum, barley and flax straws, go unused while our forests are logged to make more paper.

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History

In North America, paper was made almost exclusively from recycled linen and cotton rags until 1850. The introduction of new industrial development laws in the late 1800’s gave rise to forests as the primary paper material. These tax incentives remain to this day and are a big part of our reliance on endangered forests for our paper needs [2].

During World War II and right up until 1960, there were 25 mills in the U.S. that produced paper from wheat straw. Currently, printing paper manufactured in North America comes almost exclusively from forests.

Ecological footprint

Canada’s intact forests are part of the world’s largest terrestrial carbon sink. Undisturbed forests absorb nearly a fifth of the CO2 released by burning fossil fuels.

The value of the carbon stored by Canada’s Boreal forest and wetlands, for example, has been estimated at $582 billion [3]. That’s much more than the wood is projected to be worth if the Boreal was logged.

Making paper with trees produces twice the ecological footprint of making it with straw [4].  And leading life cycle studies verify wheat straw and recycled content have a much smaller footprint than virgin fiber [5].

ecofootprint

By virtue of their smaller particles and lower lignin content, most agricultural residues take less time, energy and chemicals to cook than wood chips.

Canopy only advocates using straw leftover after the food grain harvest and all other uses are accounted for, including animal bedding and maintaining soil integrity including soil carbon. This leftover straw is known as “agricultural residue” and in many regions is disposed of by burning.

Canada grows close to 20 million acres (8.09 million Ha) of wheat annually, while the top wheat-growing states in the USA produce more than 40-million acres (>16 million Ha).  In the North American wheat belt there is enough straw left over after the annual harvest, after accounting for various agricultural uses and soil conservation needs, to avoid logging at least 250 million trees [6].

 

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Sources:

1. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). 1998a. Global Fibre Supply Study Forest Products Division Forestry Department, April (Draft). Rome: FAO: 46).

2. Welfare For Waste: How Federal Taxpayer Subsidies Waste Resources and Discourage Recycling

3. Anielski, M. and S. Wilson. 2005. Counting Canada’s Natural Capital: Assessing the Real Value of Canada’s Boreal Ecosystems. Published by the Canadian Boreal Initiative and The Pembina Institute. 78 pp. 2009 Updated figures here: https://www.cbd.int/financial/values/canada-countcapital.pdf

4. Kissinger et al., 2006

5. http://www.cms.kimberly-clark.com/UmbracoImages/UmbracoFileMedia/KC_LCA_Figure_Revised_FINAL_012914_umbracoFile.pdf

6. Canopy, Based on 1 ton of straw per acre and using only 25% of that to maintain soil carbon