Over the years people have said we were nuts to think about making papers with wheat straw in North America and at least three people in the virgin paper industry have told me it will never happen.
Persistence pays off and as a result I am pleased to say that our leadership has fostered a trend that is now gaining real momentum. When Canopy did our first paper trial with Canadian Geographic in 2008, we were sowing seeds for a vision that would eventually take root in our soils. Our straw and recycled paper books with Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and Yann Martel were the next installment.
Today, not only are there a handful of imported wheat straw copy papers in North American retail outlets – most notably the Step Forward brand backed by Woody Harrelson, which is fertilizing plans for a tree free paper mill in Manitoba – there are also major brand names printing CSR reports on straw paper, including Walmart. Not to mention Kimberly-Clark’s development of a tissue for the North American market containing 20% wheat straw.
Also heartening is news streaming in about investments in new USA based straw pulp and paper facilities. These include Columbia Pulp’s plans for straw pulping in Starbuck, Washington, as well as the announcement in late June for a $2-billion straw pulp and paper mill in Virginia.
As excited as I am to see all these developments, knowing these companies are proving the business viability of the vision for North American straw pulping infrastructure, I know there is room for more capacity. Especially when it comes to commercial scale capacity for straw pulp for a range of products, from packaging and molded fiber products to fine book and magazine paper to agricultural pulps that can help replace ancient forest fibers in clothing.
Over the past few years, through an on-line survey, we have quantified more than one million tons of annual demand for printing and writing grade papers made with agricultural residues such as wheat straw. And almost weekly I receive a call from someone looking for North American produced straw pulp for a new product. So while there are new straw products hitting the market and new developments that will increase North American production to some degree, there will still be tremendous demand for a wide diversity of products. Demand that simply won’t be met without more production and more variety.
My observation: Clearly there is huge potential for more straw pulping capacity right here in North America for a range of grades of pulp for packaging and fine paper and clothing. In addition to meeting market demand, straw pulp capacity brings a host of economic and environmental benefits. Farmers could get added revenue for a product that at present might be costing them money to deal with and new mills means new jobs. New mills would be built with cutting edge technology that comes with a smaller environmental footprint than antiquated and polluting mills, while the straw pulps and papers would provide customers with lower carbon and biodiversity paper options than are viable from paper products sourced from carbon and biodiversity rich forests like the Boreal.
Here is what you can do to help:
When you need to use paper use the wheat straw products already on the market instead of virgin forest paper products. Options are listed in our Ecopaper Database.
Complete our Straw paper market survey if you haven’t done so already.
Switch from virgin paper to the straw papers already available in North America. Options are listed in our Ecopaper Database.
Invest in projects with strong business plans such as the Prairie Paper and Columbia Pulp projects and keep an eye out for emerging opportunities
Work with us to design and plan new greenfield facilities in other regions that can help meet the demand other projects are not yet designed to do.
Pop us a note…We’d love to explore the growing number of options with you.