FAQ: Survival – A Pulp Thriller: A Plan for Saving Forests and Climate



Q:  Does the plan account for the costs and impacts of decommissioning existing infrastructure that uses trees?

A: No. This plan outlines the direct costs associated with creating mill infrastructure. Some of the existing infrastructure can be retrofitted if it is close enough to alternative feedstock sources. However, most wood pulp mills are built near forests, and so it is likely that there will be some jobs lost in some locations, and that will require funds to support any impacted workers to transition to new positions. In Chapter 2 we suggest that additional conservation financing be dedicated to help forest-dependent communities shift economic opportunities (or development) away from commodity wood pulp. 


Q: Will jobs be lost in this transition?  

A: There are jobs and economic benefits associated with this new investment, which include mill jobs in farming regions that grow the kinds of agricultural fibre that can be converted to paper products, and in the urban periphery where textile waste can be diverted from landfills. It is likely there will be no net job loss; however, it is possible that there will be some job displacement from one region to another.


Q: Can existing mills be retrofitted to use agricultural fibres or recycled cotton? 

A: Some existing mills will be able to be retrofitted, whilst for others it will not be possible. The pulping process is different in each case, so depending on what kind of pulping machinery is used in a wood pulp mill, some of it can be repurposed for alternative fibres, and mill buildings and sites can be used to house new pulping machinery. Proximity to feedstocks is an important factor in whether retro-fitting a pulp mill is economically feasible.


Q: Is alternative fibre pulp cost-competitive and of similar quality to wood pulp?

A: In countries where alternative fibre pulp is already being produced at economy of scale – such as in India – they are cost-competitive. Once production levels in regions such as North America and Europe reach similar scales, we expect it will be similarly competitive and of equal quality. Nearly 13 million tons of agricultural fibre paper is already in production and selling on commodity markets as copy paper, molded containers, and in packaging. 

Different types of agricultural fibres perform differently to each other – e.g. wheat straw has a slightly longer fibre length than hardwood and bast fibres (flax and hemp) have much longer fibres than softwood. Making paper types often requires mixing different pulp together to achieve the desired performance. Newer technologies for pulping alternative fibres tend to require significantly less energy and water which reduces costs. Recycled cotton pulp is very new onto the market and is currently produced at smaller scales. The expectation is that Economy of Scale production will make recycled viscose cost-competitive.


Q: How do we justify investment in hundreds of new mills instead of supporting existing mills? Doesn’t it create a new footprint?

A: The footprint of industrial forestry is very heavy. Where possible, retro-fitting mills is ideal. The avoided carbon and methane emissions from not logging forests, diverting clothing from landfills and avoiding the burning of straw waste serves to offset the carbon footprint of a new building compared to a conventional mill. About 11% of a building’s embodied carbon is in the construction materials. Over the lifetime of a conventional wood mill the energy to operate it and the high carbon inputs of trees exceeds the embodied carbon footprint.


Q: Don’t  trees just die and isn’t the fibre wasted if we don’t log the forests?

A:  Forests have many ecological functions, including providing habitat for innumerable species, providing climate control, and filtering precipitation. Individual trees – particularly older, larger trees with more biomass – as well as the soils they grow in, absorb vast amounts of carbon, helping to mitigate climate change. When trees start to decompose and break down, this creates new soils. These contribute to maintaining the life cycle of the forests, and none of this is wasted. Canopy does not oppose all logging. We support it when it is done within a credible conservation management system like Forest Stewardship Council-certified forestry 

There are many areas where logging can occur, if it occurs at a rational pace and is FSC-certified, and Canopy advocates that this wood is put to best use.  Forest fibre can still enter the supply stream, chips can be used for combining with alt fibre where appropriate. Land-use planning must first identify what parts of the forest need to be protected, then identify zones where it is reasonable to log and determine how much can be sustainably logged. Finally, it’s critically important that more effort is made to identify best possible end-use for the trees and wood fibre that have made their way into the supply chain. 


Q: Where will the new plants be built?

A:  These mills  can be located in more than 20 countries around the globe. Seventy per cent of those mills could likely be built in India, China, US, Brazil, Canada, Ukraine and Indonesia, where fibrous agricultural residues are plentiful, and tens of millions of tons of it are currently being burned or dumped. These new mills have additional benefits of economic development in rural regions and in under-employed urban areas


Q: What is Canopy advocating regarding overall consumption levels: surely that’s the biggest problem?

A: Over-consumption drives unsustainable use of resources. In all our work, Canopy advocates for consumption reduction first, because reduction has the highest and fastest environmental impact. In order of priority, we recommend that efforts be intensified to reduce, recycle, replace content with less environmentally-harmful components, and where deemed necessary to purchase a product made with new content, ensure first that there is sufficient, representative conservation of the forest ecosystem type and then that operations have been certified to the highest possible environmental standard. In the case of timber and paper, that is certification by the Forest Stewardship Council.


Q:  What are the credentials of the author of this report and of Canopy as an environmental group?

A: Valerie Langer is a long-time researcher and advocate for the use of alternative fibres in paper and clothing production, having focused on supporting their development for the last 15 years. She has helped find financing to support ag-waste mill development,  researched and linked emerging tech developers with commercial producers and mills in order to accelerate uptake of Next Gen products.

Canopy’s work with the book publishing sector has been instrumental in proving that the quality of ag-waste papers is of equally high quality to conventional paper, having solicited the support from authors such as Margaret Atwood, Yann Martel and Alice Munro to insist that their bestsellers be printed on Next Gen paper. Canopy has also helped develop/promote the trials of new magazine-grade paper, with National Geographic having successfully trialled a new light-weight-coated paper.




Q: Isn’t pulp for paper made with the sawdust and chip by-product from lumber sawmills that would be wasted if not pulped?

A: No. Approximately 40% of global timber logging goes into paper, and paper is an integrated co-product of the forest products sector. The fibre used in paper production is generally a mix between pulp logs, which are logged for paper production and chipped specifically for that purpose, and sawmill residue. In the tropics, in particular, there are plantations that are established solely for the purpose of paper production. In the northern hemisphere, many interior forests are logged specifically for chipping to produce pulp.


Q: Where can I buy agricultural fibre paper/packaging?

A: Go to Canopy’s Ecopaper Database for a list of eco papers we have vetted thus far.




Q: How do we address the impacts of growing cotton in the first place and avoiding toxic chemicals used in the initial production of fabrics that will be recycled?

A:. Many ally organizations are working to improve cotton farming practices, such as the Better Cotton Initiative and CottonConnect. In addition, the fashion industry can contribute to mitigating these impacts by making clothes that last longer, and recycling waste cotton into new fabrics. Adopting processes to make cottonized fabrics from agricultural residues can also  help reduce the need for such high-intensity cotton production. 


Q: Where can I buy recycled viscose clothing?

A: The use of recycled viscose in creating new products is growing but currently not yet widely available or widely promoted. However, several of the worlds’ largest viscose producers are now incorporating recycled viscose into their new lines. For example, Lenzing produces clothing using a product called ReFibra, and this content is listed on the label. Birla Cellulose also produces a line of called Liva, and Re:newcel produces Circulose. We expect this content will be listed on labels as it becomes more common within the industry. Several brands will be releasing collections in 2020 using viscose fabrics made with recycled waste cotton content.