Is paper sustainable at all?

There is a big transition (often away from plastics) into sustainable alternatives.

When trees are our best technology for carbon capture, is it really sustainable to cut trees to make paper / wood?

Even when those trees were initially planted under a commercial context for that sole purpose?

We need to think harder about using wood. For instance, agricultural waste like straw can be turned into paper, using bee wax or other natural ingredients as binding. I see efforts to use paper/wood as an alternative to plastics but I don’t see much effort to move away from using trees.

Relying more on waste materials and less on forestry would remove pressure from forestry, which is a big issue with climate change that is not getting much attention by governments.

I am a strong believer on radical innovation to flip this equation urgently and in using aggressive government incentives to leave nature alone, even when trees were initially planted for commercial purposes.

In Denmark, where 62% of land is over-used for agricultural purposes, I would conceptually see an aggressive approach to fix this:

Convert ~1/4 of current agricultural land into forestry by giving incentives to convert and to produce more valuable crops on the remaining land.

Increase area allocated to commercial forestry to allow broader tree coverage under a better economic foundation.

Tax heavily the use of wood that doesn’t store carbon. We need to start looking at burning of wood as equivalent to smoking. It needs to be taxed heavily since it won’t help humans or climate and this taxation should finance the increase in forestry area. For instance, wood used in construction or quality furniture holds carbon longer than burning wood for energy.

Forbid the use of wood in power plants, a big issue in Denmark where heating plants import wood chips from abroad. Burning wood is claimed to be a carbon neutral alternative to fossil fuels (it is) but we can use bio-methane as a replacement to gas instead of having to rely on burning nature. Bio-methane can become “double-positive” if it replaces burning of wood. Nature Energy in Denmark calculated that Denmark could fully replace fossil fuel gas with bio-methane, mostly from cow farms.

I’ve done some quick research about the use of agricultural residue to make paper and it seams that the technology exists, although restricted to some kinds of applications because wood pulp is very good and useful for higher quality paper.

We need to start thinking differently: nature must trump efficiency.

We burn so much oil/diesel/gas because that’s the most efficient way of storing and generating energy.

Instead, we need to start focusing on technologies that enable alternatives to become feasible with the help of technology, even if that means producing under less efficient economic terms. Our planet will be better if many industries decide to use agricultural waste instead of wood, bio-methane instead of fossil gas, etc.. Industries that increase X% of their profits by using damaging solutions should pay X^2 taxes.

Now we only need governmental courage to fix climate change once and for all. That will unfortunately never happen.