Where does Paper really come from?


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So we were all taught in school and especially environmental science classes that paper comes from trees, but really what is paper all made up of? It certainly isn't just a stripped down pine.

In simple terms, paper consists of pulp, filler, water and chemicals. The ingredients are combined according to the unique recipe for each particular paper, and the grades are then produced in a way that ensures they have the desired properties.

According to this source, pulp consists of cellulose fibers that usually come from pulp wood - which in turn comes from trees. The most common wood types used for pulp are aspen, eucalyptus, birch, pine and spruce. Different types of wood are used because the properties of the fibers vary. For example, hardwood fibers are shorter and give the paper good opacity and formation, while fibers from softwood trees are longer and make for a strong paper.

With the chemical method, which produces chemical pulp, cellulose fibers are released from the other constituents in the tree trunk by first being ground into chips and then digested using chemical additives.

Cellulose fibers therefore represent the most important ingredient in paper, although they alone are not enough. Additives are also required, one being filler. As the name suggests, the task of the filler is to fill in the gaps in the complex fiber network. A paper made with filler is softer and more even. It has better formation, higher opacity, better ink-setting properties, a smoother and more flexible surface - all of which make for better printing characteristics. 

Chemicals are necessary primarily for paper to be made in the first place, but also to ensure that the finished product has the desired properties, such as extra strength, better water resistance and the right shade.

Paper also contains some moisture in the form of water, commonly between 3.5 and 6.5 per cent. The moisture level depends on the application and printing process the paper is intended to be used in.

So the main things involved in the construction of paper are pulp, filler, chemicals, and water/moisture content. There is a lot of work and energy put into making paper--sometimes paper that we scribble notes on just to toss in the recycle bin at the end of the day. At least, this paper can be re-used, so make sure to make the most of the work and resources used for your one piece of paper and place it in the recycle bin! All it takes is one extra step to place it in the correct blue bin and not the trash can.

Check out the source above that I used for this blog, it talks about the whole process of recycling and production process of paper.

Fun Fact: According to conserveatree.org, Claudia Thompson, in her book Recycled Papers: The Essential Guide (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992), reports on an estimate calculated by Tom Soder, then a graduate student in the Pulp and Paper Technology Program at the University of Maine. He calculated that, based on a mixture of softwoods and hardwoods 40 feet tall and 6-8 inches in diameter, it would take a rough average of 24 trees to produce a ton of printing and writing paper, using the kraft chemical (freesheet) pulping process. If we assume that the groundwood process is about twice as efficient in using trees, then we can estimate that it takes about 12 trees to make a ton of groundwood and newsprint.
--visit that site to find out more details about calculations made for different trees and different paper types.

http://green-buzz.net/wp-content/uploads/2010/01/recycle-paper.jpg

and also enjoy this fun George Carlin "Save the Trees" Remix on YouTube

3 Comments

Rachel, awesome post, you did a great job of diving into the science is a concise way. After reading, I decided to start looking around the web, reading a variety of sources and I found something very interesting! Like most, I have always assumed that creating paper is harmful to the environment, and is resulting in the lost of forests. Except, then I came across a fascinating PDF that can be accessed by entering the following link, earthanswers_growtree.pdf into Google and clicking on the first option. Essentially, the 7-page document asserts that natural trees aren't cut down for paper and states that the industry adds tress to the environment by harvesting. It reads, "In fact, many forests might not exist in the first place if trees weren’t planted and harvested by industry. It takes from 10 - 20 years for trees to grow until they are large enough for harvesting." It continues on to assert that, "a tree is not cut down for making paper at all, but instead cut down for making boards and planks (dimensional lumber) used for buildings. Paper is then made from the leftover scraps from those sawmill operations." I had always thought that the paper industry severely hurt the environment and that saving paper was a huge step in saving trees. But according to Tappi, a company who claims to provide solutions through information, this is not the case. The PDF asks the question, "Will we run out of trees if we continue to cut them down for paper?" And then answers, "No. More trees are planted every year than are cut down." I am curious Rachel, has this PDF tricked me, or is it well grounded in the fact that because of industry more trees are being harvested and the environment is benefitting? It just seemscontrary to everything I have heard and thought about the paper industry.

Awesome post! i definetly agree with your statement: "There is a lot of work and energy put into making paper--sometimes paper that we scribble notes on just to toss in the recycle bin at the end of the day. At least, this paper can be re-used, so make sure to make the most of the work and resources used for your one piece of paper and place it in the recycle bin! All it takes is one extra step to place it in the correct blue bin and not the trash can." People don't realize what a difference they could make with one decision!

Wow, what a complicated process...
Since trees are something we sort of need to survive, and we have a big problem with deforestation, it might be prudent to look into synthetic paper.
Yupo is actually the leader in this industry. They take raw polyolefin, mix it with some other additives, then take those pellets and er... do something with them, heat them I suppose, and then stretch it through a machine to make synthetic paper!
Here's a link to their website, and a manufacturing process diagram:
http://www.yupousa.com/paper/about-yupo/what-is-yupo/manufacturing-process
http://www.yupousa.com/pdf/manufacturing.pdf

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