I might have known • 22 December 2008 • The SnowBlog

I might have known

For years I've thought of plastic as a dangerous luxury. Paper, on the other hand, seems natural, renewable and safe. Because it is simply wood in another form, it replenishes itself and if you discard it, its components rejoin the various cycles of earth and decay. I had fondly imagined, therefore, that paper was produced in a sustainable cycle. But like so many things, it's only sustainable if it's used with restraint. And the world has very little restraint when it comes to paper. Mandy Haggith's very nicely written book, Paper Trails, confirms many of my worst fears. And then goes far beyond them. I had no idea how many old trees are cut down to make things that are immediately thrown away. Or that lots of recycled paper isn't really recycled, that lots of sustainable sources aren't sustainable, and that in far off lands, where there's money to be made, the clear-cutting of huge swathes of primeval, ancient forest is too lucrative to resist. It's bad enough to hack down pristine Amazonian rain forest, but at least that would grow back if we allowed it to. In the massive and ancient boreal forests of Northern Europe, where trees take hundreds of years to mature in the freezing conditions, new saplings often require the shelter of established trees to protect them. Hack down millenium-old virgin forest in that part of the world and it might never return. I'm sure you don't want a reason to feel bad so close to Christmas, but on the other hand, any publishers reading this can do more than just feel guilty; we can scrutinise the provenance of the paper we use. When Em and I have finished reading up on this subject, we're certainly going take a closer look at where the pulp for our books comes from. I know Em has already worked hard to make sure we're doing the right thing, but it won't hurt to double-check. And for those of you interested in such things, Paper Trails covers a lot of interesting ground, including some fascinating details of traditional papermaking in China which uses plant fibre from sources other than trees. If beautiful, handmade paper can come from plant stalks, perhaps commercial paper could be produced from something which grows in fields annually rather than in forests over centuries. And as for using virgin forest to make junk mail which is dumped into landfill never having been opened, there has to be a better way. Off out now to hug a tree.


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