“Rock Paper” provides an alternative to wood pulp

I saw an advert for this on TV which caught my interest about a kind of paper made from ground rocks:

Welcome to Rock Paper – Premium Paper that Rocks

In order to produce a metric ton of traditional wood pulp papers, an average of four metric tons of wood chips is utilised, which is the equivalent of felling approximately 23 large trees. Even so, this is merely the start of a long list of environmental costs of using traditional wood pulp paper.

Indeed, it is generally thought that no industry has forced more species into extinction, destroyed more natural habitats, and polluted as many streams, rivers, and lakes than the traditional pulp and paper industry. In essence, this industry is amongst the world’s largest generators of toxic air pollutants (in particular, the carcinogen dioxin), surface water pollution, sludge, and solid wastes.

Of the trees harvested globally for industrial uses, nearly half goes to pulp and paper production and, the demand for wood pulp remains insatiable. In light of the continuing trends, it has been estimated that only 5% of all tropical forests will remain by mid-century to the detriment of biodiversity. Even at the present, less than 20% of the world’s original forest cover remains intact, and much of what does remain is already threatened by commercial logging.

Although about 30% of the world’s wood pulp supply now comes from tree farms, by and large forest-harvested timber still dominates supply. In truth, even if artificial tree plantations have taken some pressure off deforestation, tree farms host about 90% fewer animal species than the natural forests that preceded them. Indeed, 1/3 of the world’s biodiversity has been irrevocably lost since 1970.

Of course, the traditional paper industry has actively promoted recycling in the hope to reduce deforestation and cut manufacturing costs. However, its environmental sustainability remains dubious due to a number of reasons. First, recycled papers need to be de-inked, de-lignified and cleaned, a laborious process which uses copious amounts of precious water and energy, produces a hazardous waste product, and pollutes the water supplies. Recycled pulp also often needs to be greatly bleached, more so than whiter/cleaner virgin pulp, causing another round of pollution. In essence, recycling paper causes similar environmental problems as using virgin pulp, save for the need to harvest more trees at the same level of demand. Hence, even if recycling does reduce the immediate pressure on mass deforestation, its production process still heavily impacts on the environment. Furthermore, as wood pulp is fibrous, traditional paper usually cannot be recycled more than a few times before the fibers completely break-down.

That the continual reliance on traditional wood pulp papers is environmentally unsustainable is not news.

Apparantly, depending on the type, it has a “large proportion” (whatever that means) of minerals such as calcium carbonate and will degrade back to dust if left, which is good for some things and bad for others. It can be waterproof going by the advert

I can’t find information on cost, and that’d be a crucial factor in it’s mainstreem use, maybe the decider. Even if it is expensive, I expect it will appeal to the eco-concious market. Production is probably on a small scale at the moment, which will push up prices, and a small business might not have the most energy efficient methods of rock-crushing, etc, so there’s a question over that.

12 thoughts on ““Rock Paper” provides an alternative to wood pulp

  1. Although about 30% of the world’s wood pulp supply now comes from tree farms, by and large forest-harvested timber still dominates supply. In truth, even if artificial tree plantations have taken some pressure off deforestation, tree farms host about 90% fewer animal species than the natural forests that preceded them. Indeed, 1/3 of the world’s biodiversity has been irrevocably lost since 1970.

    Not sure I buy into these stats. I think they fudged em a little. Last I heard the majority of paper in America comes from tree farms, because it’s too costly and the environmentalists won the battle on getting paper from trees or non-tree farms. But it’s a hard stat to verify one way or the other.

  2. light of the continuing trends, it has been estimated that only 5% of all tropical forests will remain by mid-century

    This sort of yoking together of unrelated facts really annoys me.  Even if the stat is true, paper has nothing to do with it.  Tropical forests tend to be HARDwood- completely unusable for paper. While the number may be correct, the causes of trpoical rain forest depledation are due to many different causes- many linked to the West’s demand for cheap products ultimately sourced on plantations that the forset was cleared to make way from.

    The major problem with paper making is not the felling- though it is true that biodiversity does suffer due to ‘artificial forests’- they are ling lines of pine, with little undergrowth to make harvesting easy.  However these use fast growing softwood, pines mostly (in Eurpoe anyway).  They are harvested/replanted to a strict schedule to ensure that there is always something to harvest in the future.

    The major harm of papermaking is the bleaching/manufacturing process that gives that ‘bright white’ business demands. Far better to use unbleached paper and get away from the image thing.

  3. The part that I don’t believe (aside from the tree killing facts noted by LH and Webs) is that you can make a reasonably useful sheet of paper out of silicates.  I would have to get my hands and pens on some of it to see if it’s any good.

  4. Hardwood is used for paper when print quality takes precedence over physical strength.  Our Arkansas mill makes a primarily hardwood fiber paperboard that does pretty well in the American commercial print market.  Our Idaho mill only has softwood fiber sources locally, so we purchase bales of hardwood pulp to add to the mix.  It probably varies between zero and twenty-five percent of total fiber in the sheet depending on the particular grade we are making.

    We whack down no natural trees for our fiber source.  About seventy percent comes from sawmill reclaims and the remaining percentage is ground up poplars from tree farms.  Bloody things grow so fast you get more fiber per acre per year than for the much vaunted fiber alternative, hemp.

    I have no first hand data on how the rest of the world sources its fiber.  I have heard that south east Asian virgin trees are being used for paper manufacturing.

    Getting away from the image thing would be wonderful.  You can not begin to imagine how insanely demanding end use customers have become for print quality.  They are slathering both sides of a paperboard sheet with full color on a high speed press and expect perfection.  Rejecting a fifty-thousand square foot roll of paper for a quarter inch wide streak that can only be seen by holding the paper under strong light at just the right angle is routine.

    Thoughts/questions about this rock paper:

    Under the ‘thickness’ column they give answers for density.  What are the calipers and basis weights?

    Exactly how much of the sheet is resin?  What is the resin?  Can it be recycled?

    Why only office paper?  Packaging board, plate stock, cup stock, hht, and brt make up the bulk of fiber used in the world.  Their claims of waterproofing probably rule out any possibility of hht and brt.  Can it be scaled up to paperboard calipers?

    What are the characteristics of the paper?  Other paper manufacturers provide data on smoothness, color, brightness, ply strength, tensile strength, stretch, stiffness etc.  They only thing they provide is a wet/dry tear ratio.  That is a test we don’t even run anymore since customers do not request it.

    After coating it is very similar to traditional paper.  What coating?

    They make reference to an antistatic printing surface.  What problems would that have for laser printers and copiers?

  5. It seems like rock paper would require a redesign of some basic tools like scissors, knives and shredders if it suddenly was expected to regularly deal with the new material.  Also, how well would it burn?  It would seem like it wouldn’t be able to if it’s made mostly of minerals.

  6. Hardwood is used for paper when print quality takes precedence over physical strength

    I didn’t know that. I was lead to believe it’s all big blokes called Sven who drive Volvo’s.  However Sean makes the point of sourcing- this ‘paper’ isn’t going to save Brazil.  This has ‘hype’ written (ha!) all over it. Though “I have heard that south east Asian virgin trees are being used for paper manufacturing.” is worrying.

    Rejecting a fifty-thousand square foot roll of paper for a quarter inch wide streak that can only be seen by holding the paper under strong light at just the right angle is routine.

    That’s just silly.

    Under the ‘thickness’ column they give answers for density.  What are the calipers and basis weights?
    Exactly how much of the sheet is resin?  What is the resin?  Can it be recycled?
    Why only office paper?  Packaging board, plate stock, cup stock, hht, and brt make up the bulk of fiber used in the world.  Their claims of waterproofing probably rule out any possibility of hht and brt.  Can it be scaled up to paperboard calipers?
    What are the characteristics of the paper?  Other paper manufacturers provide data on smoothness, color, brightness, ply strength, tensile strength, stretch, stiffness etc.  They only thing they provide is a wet/dry tear ratio.  That is a test we don’t even run anymore since customers do not request it.
    After coating it is very similar to traditional paper. What coating?

    Very little about the process in making it.  I note “After heating”.  So you don’t need to farm trees (remove CO2) but do need to heat it (likely producing CO2 in the heat-making process) Are there by-products? Chemicals addes?

  7. (in particular, the carcinogen dioxin),

    Just some thoughts …this article is using scaremongering tactics, and the fallacy of ‘glittering generalities’.

    The name Dioxin (C.A.S. #290-67-5) is not being used in the proper chemical manner. The problem chemicals are really polychlorinated dibenzodioxins which are not the same thing.  Popular media usage has skewed the public into thinking all dioxins are bad, which is not the case.

    Upon going to the ‘rock paper’ link and reading further, they mention that their paper is ‘resin with a small amount of calcium carbonate’. So, where does this ‘resin’ come from? Most resins are either vegetable or petroleum products.  The first source would be of the same biological impact as paper production, and the latter would be even more detrimental as fossil fuels are in finite supply.

  8. I don’t know how long the idea of rockpaper has been seriously considered, it seems hard to find that much on google but must’ve reached a certain critical point to be able to advertise on tv. Without much challenge, they can pretty much say what they like and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the stats were off

    Theo: It seems like rock paper would require a redesign of some basic tools like scissors, knives and shredders

    Let’s play rockpaper+scissors!
    I’m not sure, I suppose it depends on what the structural part is (the fibre/polymer)
    As to how it’d burn – depends on the fibre again, but being loaded with CaCO3 it’ll give off a lot of CO2 under heat, probably forming gas pockets that build up to a certain pressure and explode, you’d probably lose what was written on them.

    Might do something similar in acid. It sounds bad that it gives off CO2 direcly (maybe also some in production), but I don’t know how this compares to logging though, in the relative scale of things

    Scenter: So, where does this ‘resin’ come from? Most resins are either vegetable or petroleum products. The first source would be of the same biological impact as paper production, and the latter would be even more detrimental as fossil fuels are in finite supply

    Even if it comes from petroleum, it’ll remain in the carbon sink at least, and perhaps at least some trees will be saved (even if some, lesser amount of wood pulp is used structurally). This is all about retaining the carbon sink as much as possible, maybe at the expense of other pollution with by products, I don’t know without looking into it more.

  9. Will there be special Rock Paper Scissors, too?  wink

    also: I was disappointed that they didn’t even have pictures of their rock paper on their website. (Or did I just not find them?)

  10. Perhaps we will all have to write in viking runes- there is a reason they are angular.

    Let’s play rockpaper+scissors!

    I was going to do that joke, but I couldn’t be arsed.

    (in particular, the carcinogen dioxin),

    Sounds like the Dihydromonoxide problem. Did you know that it is a major component in acid rain?

  11. Sounds like the Dihydromonoxide problem. Did you know that it is a major component in acid rain?

    Tis true! Another component of acid rain is Carbonic acid made by combining one molecule of Dihydromonoxide with one molecule of Carbon Dioxide, but all ‘they’ want to talk about is trace amounts of nitric, sulfuric and other mineral acids. sheesh!

    Now if we could just get rid of the poisonous Oxygen dimer molecules that are about 20% of our atmosphere, all our environmental problems would go away from anoxia.

  12. From what I’ve learned so far about Rock Paper, it is 100% environmentally safe.  The resin used is non-toxic and therefore also likely not harmful to the environment.  As to how long it takes to degrade I don’t know but I’m certain it won’t take thousands of years and its likely possible to make rock paper that doesn’t degrade over time depending on the resin used.  If its suitable to be used in the food industry we know the resin is safe, and who wouldn’t love to have wrapping that is grease resistant?  I also understand that rock paper requires 15% less ink for printing, is waterproof so it can be used for things like umbrellas.  I am also wondering if its possible to manufacture this product into larger pieces.  Perhaps an experiment to see if it can replace wood in housing construction or perhaps better yet as a backing for dry wall.  Replace the paper on dry wall with rock paper and you’ll eliminate one of the biggest drawbacks of dry wall.  For one thing it can’t be used in bathrooms safely because its a perfect place for mold to grow in damp environments, but with rock paper the mold will have nothing to feed on.

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