I put down my coffee to find the morning paper somewhere in my front yard. It was in the bushes again. I pulled the paper out of the plastic bag and the rubber band it came in.
The paper was a half pound (220 grams) of newsprint covered with two grams of petroleum- and soybean-based inks. Two-thirds of the pages, and two-thirds of the ink, were devoted to advertising. I mostly read the comics. Two-thirds of American adults read a newspaper on an average weekday; three-fourths do on a Sunday.
Trees The paper was half recycled and half made from trees. Most of the trees (those that provided 45 percent of the newsprint) were 150-year-old Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir trees in the Cariboo Mountains of central British Columbia. Canada is the world’s leading newsprint producer; B.C. alone produces 5 percent of the world total. Loggers, earning Can$20 (US$15) an hour and wielding Husqvarna chainsaws, felled the trees from a steep slope above Penfold Creek. They were lucky to have jobs: many of their friends were laid off in the 1980s as machines did more of the cutting and processing of trees. From 1980 to 1990, the number of timber industry jobs in B.C. fell by a third even as the volume of wood cut in the province increased 16 percent.
Except for a 160-foot-wide strip of selective logging along the creek, loggers and their machines removed every tree for 100 acres. Clearcutting of wildlands accounts for 90 percent of logging in British Columbia. Some clearcuts in the Cariboo Mountains are so large they can be seen from space. (I took a rafting trip in B.C. last summer and heard a joke about the local definition of selective logging: select a mountain, then log it!)
Logging Roads After the branches and treetops were sawed off, a choker-setter in a hard hat attached cables to the trees, and a diesel-powered yarder dragged them up the hillside to a muddy landing area, leaving a “skid trail” on the slope. Mud and rocks tumbled toward the creek. The logs were loaded on an 18-wheel flatbed truck. The driver found his way through a dozen gears and steered his load over dirt logging roads that twisted and turned through the mountains like somuch spaghetti. He made his way to a sawmill in Quesnel, a town beside the Fraser Riber. The Fraser is the world’s greatest producer of salmon, but loggin, road building, and other disturance of the watershed have contributed to an 80 percent decline in salmon over the past century.
With the next rain, more mud and rocks spilled from the road and the skid trails into Penfold Creek, smothering sockeye slamon eggs in the gravel bed of the stream. British Columbia has roughly 150,000 miles of logging roads – enought to circle the planet six times. The B.c. Ministry of Forests plans to remove 3,000 miles annually to reduce the damage to fish and wildflife. It also plans to build twice as many miles of new logging roads each year.
Pulp The Quesnel mill sawed the logs. About half of each log was converted into lumber; the rest became chips and sawdust. These residues were trucked to a nearby pulp mill, where they were mixed with Fraser Riber water and cooked to make apulp of weak, yellow fibers. Hydroelectricity from a dam on the Peace Riber (which runs from northeastern B.C. toward the Arctic Ocean) powered both mills. This “mechanical pulping” managed to convert 95 percent of the wood residues into pulp. It made a low-grade pulp that would quickly yellow with age or e xposure to sunlight. The pulp was lightly bleached with hydrogen peroxide.
Five percent of the newsprint in my morning paper came from another forest and was processed in a “kraft” pulp mill in Crofton, on British Columbia’s Vancouver Island. Newsprint makers add kraft pulp to mechanical pulp to make their product stronger. (Kraft is German for strength; kraft pulping yields longer and stronger fibers than other pulping processes. The kraft pulp began as 300-year-ol wesern red cedar and hemlock trees. They were logged in a temperate rian forest in the Paradis watershed on the mainland coast of British Columbia. (I’ve always wanted to see this coast by taking the ferry up the Inside Passage to Alask. I guess I should go soon, before much more of it is clearcut.)
Trucks carried the logs over a muddy logging road to the shore. A tugboat hauled them to a sawmill on Vancouver Island, and the resulting cips and dust were trucked to Crofton. Then the chips cooked in a soup of caustic soda and sodium sulfide. These chemicals are not especially toxic, but they combine to give Crofton the rotten-egg aroma of a mill town.
After nearly 12 hours in a giant cooker, the tightly bound wood fibers had separated from one another. The pulp was then wshed to remove undigested knots of wood and chemicals (for reuse). The mill converted about 50 percent of the incoming wood to pulp; the rest it burned for energy.
Bleachin The kraft pulp – brown like a paper grocery bag – was then bleached with chlorine dioxide. A tiny fraction of the chlorine reacted with organic chemicals in the pulp to form various dioxins and furans, among them TCDD and TCDF – two of the most carcinogenic substances known. Beyond cuasing cancer, dioxins can also suppress the immune system and produce severe bith defects and reproductive disorders in humans and other animals. Pulp mills in B.C. have dramatically reduced their toxic emissions since the late 1980s; average discharges of TCDD dropped by 85 percent from 1990 to 1993.
Your Choices Matter
European consumers’ demands for totally chlorine-free (TCF) paper, along with increasingly strict regulations in Canada on mill emissions, have led many mills to switch partially to making CF pulp. Canada’s export-oriented paper industry is extremely sensitive to shifitng tastes in foreign markets. Some mills simultaneously produce chlorine-free paper for the European market and chlorine-bleached paper for the U.S. market.
Similarly, California’s legislation requiring newsprint to hae at least 35 percent recycled content by 1996 and 50 percent by the 2000 has sent papers mills in the U.S. and Canad scurrying to boost their recycling capacity.
Pulping the virgin fibers in Croftong and Quesnel reuired nearly a third of a kilowatt-hour of energy, enough to power the refrigerator in my kitchen for two hours. Some of the energy came from wood waste burned at the mills. Burning wood generated heat and smoke and released carbon dioxide, the principal climate-altering greenhouse gas. The seedlings planted in the Paradis clearcut will absorb carbon dioxide as they grow. But these seddlings are to be logged again in 60 years – long before they can recapture the CO2 emitted in turning 300-year-old trees into newsprint. Logging of coastal rain forests is responsible for one-fourth of Britich Columbia’s greenhouse gas emission.
Overall, virgin newspring (which is mostly mechanical p ulp) has lower environmental impacts than most virgin paper: making mechanical pulp requires less energy and water and fewer chemical additives than making draft pulp. Mechanical pulp is not chlorine bleached. It is also easier to de-ink and recycle than other papers. That is why curbside recycling programs, including the one in my neighborhood, collect newsprint separately.
Recycling From the mills in Quesnel and Crofton, the pulp wqas trucked to a paper mill in Spokane, Washington. Canada provides more than half the virgin pulp in U.S. newsprint. The paper mill combined the virgin pulp with recycled pulp – 80 percent old newspapers and 20 percent old magazine. A truck had collected the papers curbside at homes in Spokane; the magazines were unsold copies returned from newsstands. Magazine publishers routeinely print far more magazines than they sell; most go to landfills.
To make the recycled p ulp, blades churned old papers and magazines together in a tank of warm water and detergent. Clay fillers from the magazine paper and the detergent combined to clean the ink off the paper. The ink adhered to air bubles nt he tank and rose to the surface, where machinery skimmed it off like cream. Most of the wate paper turned back to pulp, but 15 percent of it (including both fibers and ink) became sludge, which truckers hauled to a landfill. Because the recycling process weakens paper fibers, newsprint can be recycled only three or four times; it is then re placed with virgin fibers.
Printing The mill in Spokane formed the paper and spun it into massive rolls, each four and a half feet wide and four feet across and weighing about a ton. An 18-wheeler hauled the rolls across the Cascades to a printing plant near downtonw Seattle. High-speed pressed printed the day’s edition with black and color inks. The black ink was a mixture of petroleum-based resins and oils from California and a small amount of carbon black made from oil drilled in the Gulf of Mexico. The colored inks were about one-third soybean oil fro Illionis, with small amounts of petrochemical pigments added. The inks were produced in Kent and Tukwila, industrial suburbs south of Seattle.
The newspaper came to my neighborhood in a gasoline-fueled station wagon. The driver lobbed the paper toward my front door but hit the bushes instead. The paper was bound in a rubber band (made in Hong Kong fro petrolum) and wrapped in a clear sheath of low-density polyethylene plastic from New Jers;ey. I saved the rubber band threw out the bag.
I scanned the front section, read “Dilbert” and a few other comics, and dropped the paper in my recycling bin. It was one of 38 million newspapers recycled daily in the United States; 22 million others are thrown away each day. Later, a diesel recycling truck hauled the paper to a warehouse. Depending on fluctuating market prices, my paper would either become newsprint again, go into cardboard, or be exported to Asia.