01 November 2013

In a paperless society, trees become clothing

Last year the StarTribune reported that the paper mill industry in the Upper Midwest was undergoing severe shrinkage:
The North American paper industry is in rapid decline. Historically a bulwark in the forests of Minnesota, mills have cut thousands of workers and are competing for a shrinking market...

River towns in the forest from eastern Washington to the coast of Maine have lost more than a hundred paper mills in a wave of consolidation in little more than a decade -- a trend most people in the industry expect to continue...

North American demand for three types of coated and supercalendared paper -- the shiny magazine and advertising paper made at three of Minnesota's four big paper mills -- has fallen 21 percent in the past decade, according to the Pulp and Paper Products Council. Kindles and iPads, e-mail, PDFs, the decline of first-class mail and waning newspaper and magazine circulations are all to blame. Analysts predict demand will fall at least another 18 percent by 2024.

The shift is forcing paper mills and mill towns to rethink their future. To survive, they will need to find new products to make out of wood.
Several forestry companies have been selling parts of their vast holdings of timberland.   Some has been purchased by state and local governments or by conservation groups, and some has been sold to frac sand developers. 

Yesterday a story reported that one way to repurpose wood products is for the manufacture of clothing:
The largest paper mill in Minnesota is now churning out a type of pulp used to make textiles... The pulp, which is the hottest forest industry product on the market, is generally sold to textile mills in Asia, blended with other materials and made into thread...

Worldwide demand for chemical cellulose is projected to increase 50 percent by 2017, according to RBC Capital Markets, and plants around the world are adding capacity as demand for paper continues to sink...

Commodity dissolving pulp can be used to make rayon and yields a fabric used in dresses, for example, or the lining of suit jackets... The shrinking amount of land available for agriculture has capped the amount of cotton that can be produced worldwide.

1 comment:

  1. Yep, an economist pointed on NPR that recycling paper is one of the worst things you can do for trees. The less paper you use, the less incentive to invest in growing more trees.

    Hypothetical example of this reasoning in action: We want more cattle in the US. Let's stop eating beef!

    This reasoning breaks down only if there is excessive demand that leads to illegal culling of non-renewable forests.


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