Straw is a byproduct of wheat farming. Every year, after the wheat harvest, thousands of acres of straw are either burned off or plowed under. Now, that straw is being reclaimed for paper pulp. 

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Reclaiming Straw
Straw is a residual waste left in the fields after the wheat harvest.
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Fall Burns
One common way farmers in Eastern Washington formerly disposed of their straw was to burn it, releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

One glance at the golden fields of grain in Eastern Washington, and it's clear you're in one of the nation's breadbaskets. Known as the Palouse, the region's wheat harvest, the largest in North America, is its claim to fame. Some area farmers even claim (incor­rectly) that Ritz Crackers are named after the local city of Ritzville. But a new local company, Columbia Pulp, based in Dayton, WA, is making sure this pastoral landscape is known for more than its amber waves of grain. As the first new pulp mill in the U.S. in decades, it has pioneered the sustainable Phoenix Process, developed by University ofWashington researchers Bill McKean and Mark Lewis, which extracts pulp, and eventually paper-from humble wheat straw. 

The new process is more environmentally friendly than comparable methods, requiring 25 percent less water and 70 percent less energy. It also eliminates the need for the annual "fall burns" farmers set to clear straw from their fields, when four to five million acres are set ablaze, creating acrid smoke and carbon emissions. By finding a use for something with no previous monetary value, Columbia Pulp has created an environmental and economic boost for this part of the country. Columbia Pulp aims to be the region's signature employer-many starting jobs are in the $20-an-hour range-and estimates it'll contribute $70 million annually once it's fully operational. 


Columbia Pulp contracts with farmers across the region, spending $13 million annually on 1,000-pound bales of straw. At facilities in Dayton and Pomeroy, WA, Columbia Pulp workers turn the straw into pulp using heat, water, and chemicals, such as peroxjde, which isolate the fibers. But unlike wood, straw doesn't need to be pressurized, saving vast amounts of energy. 


“Processing straw into pulp eliminates the need for the annual "fall burns" farmers set to clear straw from their fields, when four to five million acres are set ablaze, creating acrid smoke and carbon emissions.”

The end result are paper products with a slight yellow hue, like the straw itself, which can be turned into numerous specialty products, as well as tissue, molded products, packaging, and label backing. There's plenty of room for growth.according to Columbia Pulp CEO John Begley. The nation boasts 10 times as much biomass from farming operations, like straw, than it does from trees. 

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Straw Fiber
From pulp to beautiful paper, straw fibers undergo a remarkable transformation at Mohawk.
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Straw Pulp
Unlike wood, straw is turned into pulp using heat, water, and chemicals, such as peroxjde, which isolate the fibers.

Expanding the Phoenix Process means less trees felled for paper, fewer damaging fires in Eastern Washington, and more economic regeneration in rural communities. It's a sustainable product, which eases environmental impact and, you might say, spins straw into gold. 

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On a Roll
A roll of Renewal Straw Wheat fresh off of the paper machine and awaiting final inspection.
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Straw Slurry
Once straw pulp is broken down into slurry, it's ready to be turned into paper.
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Sustainability with a Story
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Mohawk Renewal
Hemp grows rapidly, maturing in as quickly as 90 days. Turning hemp into pulp requires less chemicals, water, and energy than wood.
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Mohawk Renewal
Recycled Cotton paper is made from t-shirt and denim scraps diverted from millions of tons of textile waste sent to landfills every year.