Seed to Sheet

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Recycled pulps and sustainable forests are changing how we think about paper.

In a forest in Northern Maine, silvery-furred, solitary Canadian lynx roam through dense trees. Wetlands, habitat to a host of species from salamanders to songbirds, are favorite destinations for hikers and fishermen. Bald eagles make their homes in the tops of old-growth trees, and, come wintertime, deer seek shelter from harsh winds and deep snow under the lush canopy.

One might think that such a forest could only exist untouched, perhaps protected by the state. But, in fact, this is one of thousands of privately owned, sustainable forests across North America. While the eco-systems of these forests are carefully monitored and managed to protect wildlife and enhance soil and water quality, trees are planted and felled to be used for timber or turned into pulp.

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Sustainable forests, along with recycled pulps, are vital to environmentally responsible paper manufacturers. Most of us are familiar with the benefits of recycled paper: conserving natural resources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, saving landfill space, and extending the life of fibers. Well over half of the paper used in the U.S. is recycled, with the vast majority of domestic paper mills using fibers from postconsumer paper to create new products.

However, the number of times that fibers can be processed and reused is finite. As Michelle Carpenter, Vice President of Environmental and Energy Stewardship at Mohawk explains, “While paper fiber can be recycled a number of times, a percentage of wood fiber is broken during processing, so new fiber must be added to recycled pulp feedstock over time to maintain strength in the paper produced.”

Knowing pulps that have just come from a tree are needed to maintain the integrity of paper, responsible manufacturers are turning to sustainable forests.

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The more consumers embrace and seek out paper made from materials from these sustainably managed forests, the more financial incentive landowners receive to keep their forests thriving. As the World Business Council for Sustainable Development states, “The income landowners receive for trees grown on their land encourages them to maintain, renew and manage this valuable resource sustainably.”

In the U. S. more than 25% of our fresh water flows through private forests and 60% of our at-risk wildlife depend on private forests for their habitats. But despite their environmental importance, these forests are often sacrificed to real estate development or conventional timber companies, with devastating effects for the wildlife and eco-systems.

No one understands the value of sustainable forests more than their owners and managers. William H. Miller, Vice President of Prentiss & Carlisle, a forest resource management firm established in 1924, explains the delicate balance of preserving trees and felling them.  In an ideal world,” he says, “if you want something to be sustainable you cut your growth.”

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When businesses such as Mohawk seek suppliers for their high quality papers, they look for pulps that originate on FSC certified lands which are well cared for by companies like Prentiss & Carlisle. The FSC, with its emphasis on chain of custody, ensures that all steps of the supply chain are environmentally sound. This way, Mohawk has the knowledge that the pulps they buy on the open market are from forests that meet rigorous standards.

When trees are grown responsibly and farmers plant seeds as soon as the mature trees are felled, wood becomes a sustainable resource.  As Miller states, “Trees grow, so unlike gas and oil and other resources that are mined, forests are constantly replenishing themselves. It’s a renewable resource and if it’s managed in an appropriate way it is going to benefit not only the current generation, but future generations as well.”

This article was written by Nina Lacour and originally published in Issue 02 of the Mohawk Maker Quarterly. The Quarterly is a vehicle to support a community of like-minded makers. Content focuses on stories of small manufacturers, artisans, printers, designers, and artists who are making their way in the midst of the digital revolution. Learn more about the quarterly here and  sign up to receive future printed issues.

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