Honestly, both of these types of tree free paper are very good for the environment and the decision on which is best has to be a tight call. Both tree free papers are also far more eco-friendly than paper made from trees. In fact, I’ll be really blunt here and suggest the practice of chopping down trees that take 40 years or more to grow again, just to make paper from it is an absurd and shortsighted practice that should be abolished.
However, we’re here to decide which of the two front-running tree free paper products is the best for our green ecology.
Some producers have started making tree free paper from straw. I’m not here to compare the quality of the end result paper but I’m informed that tree free paper made from straw is certainly comparable to paper made from trees. Obviously, the base resource is straw and that waste product of wheat production is available in quantity after the grain harvest.
That’s all good but there are already some other products competing for the straw. Straw is also fodder for livestock and it’s been utilized in some other green ventures like in making oriented strand boards that further reduce the dependence of forests by replacing plywood.
I also want to point out that the straw left on the field at the end of the harvest is not usually burnt. It simply turns to compost and adds to the bank of nutrients available for the next year’s crop. Conversely, the remaining material in a sugar cane crop is very often burnt. Much of the carbon ash remains but the combustion increases air pollution.
Currently, the sugar cane waste is not really being used in many green ways. Much of the sugar cane waste, that is also called ‘bagasse’, is simply dried and burned for power cogeneration purposes.
The monolithic industries, or I suppose Neanderthal industries is the better description, really like ‘power cogeneration’ because it decreases their utility costs and improves their profits. But cogeneration really means burning an inefficient fuel that puts out harmful combustion bi-products that a cleaner energy source like solar or hydro would not. The money saved at the detrimental cost of increased pollution would be much better spent on building cleaner energy projects.
Tree free paper made from sugar cane residue removes some of the material from a process that is not environmentally sound into a product that is eco-friendly. That fact alone gives tree free paper made from sugar can a healthy step up from the straw paper.
The next environmental aspect I’ll discus is oxygen production. Doubtlessly, both of the tree free paper products reduce the demands on the forests and that’s good. But the whole reason why forests are so effective at converting carbon dioxide into oxygen is because the forests posses a huge volume of greenery. A crop of wheat will also help in the oxygen production but the plants are less than a meter tall at full maturity. Multiply that depth by the square area and then compare that to a forest of 60-foot trees with a canopy so thick that you can barely see the sky. There is a lot more leaf surface working to make oxygen and reduce air pollution for us in a dense forest.
Now let’s consider the average crop of sugar cane. At full height, the cane could be up to 4 meters tall and growing in a lush green and dense area. The oxygen replenishing of this crop per square surface area is more than 4 times that of wheat.
The ecosystem’s oxygen cycle again favors the sugar cane paper over tree free paper made from straw as the better choice for the environment. So let’s look at the last factor of our environmental comparison, which is a theoretical look into an optimum future.
Suppose the government were to stop accepting bribes in the form of political contributions or outright cash, and made paper made from trees illegal, as they really should have long ago. Suddenly the demand for tree free paper like either straw paper or sugarcane paper would likely outstrip the supply and it would certainly put a strain on the available raw waste materials.
Increasing grain production to produce more straw and then more straw paper would be difficult. It wouldn’t be good for the economy either as the excess grain would likely just stockpile up and drop the prices for producers. This is not an extremely attractive future prospect.
Conversely, sugar cane production could be increased quite easily. There is already plenty of land made available in the jungle clear cuts in Brazil’s rainforests. While the oxygen production of sugar cane doesn’t total up to what the rainforest had, its four-meter height of dense foliage is better than a one-meter wheat crop and definitely better than a bunch of stumps in the stripped out remains of a ravaged forest.
And we should also consider the use of the sugar cane’s primary resource. A glut on sugar wouldn’t be a huge impact because sugar has more uses than grain. Any excess sugar could be fermented into alcohol for burning that is cleaner than the cogeneration power plants using grossly inefficient residues as fuel.
Again the nod for the most environmentally sound tree free paper has gone to that made from sugar cane residue. Ramping up quickly to vastly increased sugar cane paper production would be much less painful to the economy and better for the environment overall that tree free paper made of straw would be.
My bottom line here is that tree free paper made from sugar cane is better for the environment than tree free paper made of straw is. However, both are absolutely better for our ecosystem than the paper made from trees – and that should really be criminalized because Neanderthal paper companies are raping our planet for no other rational reason pure greed.