Year of Natural Fibers Series – October: Wood Pulp

Presenting: Awbury’s 2019 article series on natural fibersClick here to learn more about this year’s theme.

Articles written by La Salle graduate and Awbury intern Dan Sardaro.

October 2019 –  Wood Pulp: 

The month is October, and we’re right around the corner from the wonderful seasonal spectacle where Philadelphia’s deciduous trees change color. We’re often reminded how beautiful our tall, living neighbors are throughout mid to late October. Thus, it is apropos that we introduce a new fiber this month, one that surrounds us always, whether it be in our parks or in our offices.

Wood pulp

October’s fiber of the month is wood pulp, the essential component of paper. Pulp is made from wood fiber, or the tree’s cellulose, the strong, chain-like material which the tree’s cells rely on to provide structure and support. Without this critical material, the paper-making industry would be at a major setback.

The earliest paper producers – first the Chinese, then Muslims, and then the rest of the Western world – all used a similar method to create their paper. They relied on a mixture of cloth, rags, and hemp, mashing them down until it became a soft pulp. They would then utilize that mixture to dry into paper worthy of their written languages. But as the demand for paper grew in the 1600s especially as populations spread across continents, the materials used for this new writing tool shifted. Trees now were the source of the pulp used to produce thin paper, and this created a whole new industry that still functions today.

William (born Wilhelm) Rittenhouse

In fact, the first operational paper mill in America was started not too far from Awbury. Wilhelm Rittenhouse, a German immigrant, started the first paper mill on the Monoshone Creek near Germantown in 1690, and was hailed as using a variety of recycled materials to produce his paper. He eventually spread his ideas across the state of Pennsylvania, where he set up several other mills in a successful effort to expand the paper-making business.

However, as the international demand for paper continues to grow, environmental issues arise. For one, deforestation is often a concern. In reality, the connection between paper production and deforestation is a complex one. While many think that the paper industry is contributing to widespread deforestation, it’s not a principal contributor. In fact, 2017 statistics show that 39% of the fiber used for paper-making comes from recycled material. In total, only 36% of the nation’s timber is being harvested for paper products. However, these numbers don’t mean there isn’t an issue. Some products do more harm than others. According to the mobile payment company Square, paper receipts are silent resource killers. Every year in the United States alone, it takes 10 million trees, 1 billion gallons of water, and 250 million gallons of oil to supply those small slips of paper. So while the overall numbers lean positive, we still have an industry which needs to be significantly reinvented.

Paper is the most recycled material in the world.

However, some parts of the industry are looking up. Over the last 50 years, logging companies have been using more of a sustainable approach to their practices. Bark now is being used as a biomass-based energy source. Chemicals used to turn wood into paper are now being reused. Residual ash from the burning of wood byproducts is now being used in construction materials. To add, paper is the most recycled material in the world.  2015 saw a 67% recycling rate among paper products.

So as you take the time to admire the changing pallet of colors that unfolds in the trees around you this October, take time to research how you can help reduce and recycle your paper products.
Check out this link for easy ways you can help the country recycle its paper: https://www.goingzerowaste.com/blog/how-to-recycle-paper-the-right-way.

 

Sources:

https://www.afandpa.org/our-products/pulp

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg21528786-100-why-wood-pulp-is-worlds-new-wonder-material/

https://www.paperrecycles.org/about/the-history-of-paper

https://www.paperdiscoverycenter.org/halloffame/2018/12/26/william-rittenhouse


Our featured artist this month is Jonathan Greenberg, who works in printmaking and Wycinanki, the Polish folk art of paper cutting.  See his work in the Cope House galleries October 7th – the end of November.  Click here to learn more.