Paper industry needs “fundamental change” to survive, says activist

September 29, 2009

North America’s paper industry “absolutely has to fundamentally change” to survive both the ecological challenges and business upheavals it currently faces, says one of Canada’s leading environmentalists.

Nicole Rycroft, executive director of Vancouver-based Canopy (formerly Markets Initiative), spoke with Design Edge Canada last week after the environmental organization held two invitation-only events in Toronto focusing on the future of the paper industry and the roles of respective players including mills, publishers, printers, designers and recyclers.

Rycroft offered three prescriptions for the health of the industry:

1. Governments need to make a real commitment to supporting the paper industry, the way they are supporting other industries like biofuels, but with performance measures that include environmental goals. Current government support is weak and includes no links to performance, she says. Existing subsidies, such as the black liquor subsidy, also promote the use of virgin fibres over recycled fibres—a regressive step.

2. The recycled fibre system needs to be designed such that fibre recovered in Canada is directed to domestic production of recycled paper. Currently, most recovered fibre is shipped to Asia, where buyers pay higher fees than domestic buyers. This creates a vicious cycle whereby domestic producers can’t source as much post-consumer fibre, leaving them at a competitive disadvantage. It also creates more CO2 emissions. Another problem: Municipal “single-stream” recycling policies, while easier on consumers, lead to poorer-quality recovered fibre compared to separated-stream processes.

3. Canada should commit to non-tree fibre sources by either retrofitting two existing mills or building a new mill to process “waste” wheat or flax straw. This type of R&D, virtually non-existent in Canada, could be the foundation for a future commercial paper industry based on waste agricultural products. Canopy estimates that Manitoba alone produces enough unused wheat straw to replace the fibre needs of the entire Canadian book and magazine industries annually.

Canopy’s mission focuses on preserving ancient forests, including Canada’s vast boreal forest, by working with industry to develop more environmentally friendly practices. For more information, visit

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