​Mining Waste Or Valuable Resource?

Paper manufacturing is one of those contentious industries that are increasingly proving to be environmentally and ecologically unsustainable. Traditional paper manufacturing that is. Traditional paper is made from pulped plant matter, notably trees. Some of the facts about this industry are mind-boggling. For example, according to some sources ONE Sunday edition of the NY Times uses 75,000 trees worth of paper, or it did back in 2013. Today many people treat their news fix via online methods rather than stopping buying a traditional paper copy. 

Whilst that's some good news for trees, the fact remains that paper based packaging constitutes around 30% of our landfill annually. In the US alone, offices churn through 12.1 trillion sheets of paper annually. Multiply that on a global scale and you begin to see the extent of the problem. In other words, we are still consuming copious amount of paper, and paper based products.

If all this is enough to make you weep in sympathy for the environment, and reach for the closest tissue box, you may want to rethink the tissue box. Manufacturing just one ton of tissue paper requires the sacrifice of 17 trees and contaminates nearly 76,000 litres of water. On the other hand, recycling one ton of paper will save at least 17 trees, 26,500 litres of water, and nearly 2,600 litres of oil.

Most of us realise that cutting down trees, especially en masse, has made a significant contribution to the sorry state in which the global environment finds itself today.  Current research indicates that we chop down 15.3 billion trees annually. Only a small fraction of this number is replaced by planting new trees. Granted, tree chopping isn't the only factor contributing to global warming but combined with everything else that's going on in the world today, it contributes greatly enough. 

A recent study found that planting trees (millions of them) could take enough carbon out of the atmosphere to buy the world some time to figure out how to more effectively reduce greenhouse gases. In fact, globally nearly 1 billion acres of land has been identified that could be utilised in this way, without encroaching on human settlements (urban and rural) or disturbing our way of life. Trees also have the ability to affect natural ecosystems in other ways. Their foliage for example can help alter heat absorption and reflection, with flow on benefits for their immediate environment. Trees can also release airborne molecules that scientists believe may contribute to cooling cloud formation. What it all boils down to is that the world would probably be a far nicer place to live if we had more trees around!

So what does paper have to do with mining?

Two words – stone paper, also known as mineral paper, rock paper, limestone paper, or bio-plastic paper.

If you've never heard of stone paper, you're probably not alone! Although stationery in stone themed hues and textures has been around for some time (think marble, granite, sand et al), it's not quite the same thing as stone paper.

Stone paper is all to do with waste, and mining waste at that.

In today's increasingly 'throw away' world waste matters. Humans produce tonnes of waste every second of every day. Much of it ends up in landfill, where it may or may not break down. If it does break down, that process may or may not be environmentally friendly. Likewise, mining and quarrying produces tonnes of waste, which we often associate with waste dumps and tailings dams. However, some mining and quarrying waste doesn't need to remain 'wasteful'. Some types of waste rock and rubble for example, is recyclable. One of the ways in which it can be recycled is to make paper. The result is stone paper.

Some countries have been using paper made from stone for some years now. In Taiwan for example there are factories using it to package food, for transportation, and for labels. Its uses don't stop there though. Stone paper has a multitude of applications, from industrial packaging to fine stationery and writing products and many things in between.

Stone paper is made from calcium carbonate mixed with non-toxic, recyclable binding agents or resins ie high-density polyethylene (HDPE). In the first step, recycled rocks from marble quarries, building sites et al are ground up to extract the calcium carbonate, which is then crushed into a fine powder. The powder is mixed with the HDPE to produce a smooth latex like mixture suitable for turning into a range of quality stationery products.

Stone paper has a number of advantages over traditional pulp paper.
  • Obviously at the top of the list is the fact that it's a lot more environmentally sustainable because it's not using wood pulp but recycling waste products from other industrial processes ie mining and quarrying.
  • Manufacturing stone paper also doesn't use water, acid, bleach or other optical brightening agents, all of which are part of traditional paper manufacturing.
  • When finished, stone paper has a texture similar to latex and is extremely durable compared to wood pulp paper. It doesn't tear easily for instance.
  • Stone paper naturally has a smooth finish so doesn't require any coating or laminating to finish it off.
  • It can repel grease and water, although admittedly it won't stand up to actually being immersed in water. A few droplets, or an accidental spill though are easily wiped off and no harm done (to the paper at least).
  • It doesn't taste nice to insects, including termites which love to chomp on wood based papers and cardboards.
  • It doesn't build up static electricity so no painful zaps!
  • It has a neutral pH.
  • It has an infinite life span and can be recycled repeatedly, although it must be recycled as a type 2 plastic due to its HDPE content.
  • Stone paper is compatible with ink jet and solid ink printing processes but unfortunately not so compatible with laser printing because of its heat bonding process.

Whilst stone paper is not biodegradable ie it won't be used as food by fungi, bacteria or insects in your compost pile, or in landfill, it is photo degradable. This means it will break down into its particulate matter (calcium carbonate particles) with prolonged exposure to the sun. So don't leave your diary made from stone paper sitting in the sun for long periods of time …..
Stone paper is increasingly being used by a number of companies to help them meet their sustainability targets. Notable amongst these are Facebook and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative along with Dermalogica and others.
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