The Secret Life of Paper

Posted: 29 August 2008 in Carbon, FSC, Paper consumption, Recycled paper, Veracel

Inform recently produced “The Secret Life of Paper”. The video promises to answer the questions, “How is paper production related to forest destruction and global warming?” and “Why is recycling and buying recycled paper important?”

The video makes some important points. The impact of the paper industry on climate change is picked up at the beginning of the film: “In the U.S. manufacturing sector the pulp and paper industry is the 4th largest emitter of greenhouse gases.” I like the fact that the video focusses on recycling and that they say that “Using Less Matters”.

But the video makes one very serious omission. There is no mention of the role of industrial tree plantations in providing raw material to the pulp and paper industry or of the impact of these plantations on local communities and their environments. Dr. Thomas Henningsen, Director of Greenpeace International Campaigns, confuses things by talking about deforestation rather than emissions from the pulp and paper production process. He explains that “The climate change is caused by forest destruction on a global scale.” While forest destruction contributes to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, it is not the cause of climate change. The cause of climate change is burning fossil fuels.

Later on Henningsen explains that we need to stop making paper out of trees and suggests alternative fibres. He says that “There is no reason to make toilet paper out of wonderful hundreds year old trees.” True. But neither does it make any sense to produce toilet paper from vast monocultures of industrial tree plantations, which is increasingly where the pulp and paper industry is sourcing its raw material.

This failure to look at industrial tree plantations leads to statements like the following:

“Industry can promote sustainable choices. Magazine and book publishers can cast a vote for the environment by using more recycled paper and wood fibre certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.”

As we’ve been pointing out at FSC-Watch, using products with the FSC logo is not necessarily a “vote for the environment”. Earlier this year, Veracel was awarded an FSC certificate for its operations in Bahia state in Brazil. Veracel’s eucalyptus monocultures, in common with many others that supply the pulp industry, have caused serious problems. The company’s huge landholding exacerbates the problem of land concentration, in a country where large numbers of people have no land. Water levels in streams, ponds and lakes has fallen. “There are no jobs here now and no money from the eucalyptus,” says a villager whose community is now surrounded by Veracel’s plantations.

Veracel’s FSC-certified plantations: A vote for the environment?

My other criticism is the uncritical inclusion of Mohawk Fine Papers in the video. Mohawk offsets its emissions by buying “Renewable Energy Certificates”, it does not rely on renewable energy itself. Mohawk explains on its website that its paper products “are made carbon neutral within our production processes by offsetting thermal manufacturing emissions with VERs and emissions from purchased electricity with RECs from Green–e certified windpower projects.” Mohawk does produce some recycled paper, which reduces its emissions, but it still produces greenhouse emissions in its production of paper. “Offsetting” these emissions does not make these emissions go away.

The end of the film is spot on: “Spread the word. Save trees and reduce greenhouse emissions by recycling paper and buying recycled paper products. And remember, just use less.”


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