Sustainable books

Since the seventies, there has been increasing interest in the use of alternative fibers for making paper. Much has been done by hand paper-makers and many beautiful papers have been made from lesser known fibers such as hops, milkweed, kudzu, thistle and flax. In fact, paper being made from the forest is a relatively recent occurrence in all of paper-making history. Some oriental  papers are made form small trees and bushes like the mulberry.

The familiar hard or soft cover book is or can be made from natural sustainable resources for its paper, paperboard, cloth, glue and ink, and these resources can be agriculturally produced. Many plants do not have to be destroyed as trees do in order to harvest large amounts of their fiber. Milkweed, for example, grows even after it has been cut down.  This means that not only can farmers in the U.S. maintain this kind of agriculture, but also farmers in tropical climates could do very well with fiber agriculture from plants that regenerate at rapid rates in those climates.

I’ve read discussions on Facebook about the either/or questions and concerns people have regarding the debate on the book versus electronic devices for reading, and about the corporate holdings of so many industries including the media promoting advertising and influencing markets like the book industry. And this has rekindled (no pun intended) my passion to speak about what I think are important factors for people to consider: primarily, that books are sustainable and there is an alternative fiber movement that could be rejuvenated.

The book as object is user-friendly. It is completely accessible in terms of searching and referencing and it is also recyclable because it is made from natural products from several sources which are not necessarily only cotton or tree fibers.  Now the question of digital devices versus books seems fairly simple to me. We live in the tech industry; we love all our gadgets, computers, laptops, tablets and screens. But there are issues that we do not hear very much about any more. Plastic, in most cases, is made from oil and while much has been done to recycle it, there are still large waste dumps of computer parts and dangerous outcomes from burning it improperly. There are rare and precious metals and substances that go into computers and cell phones that are often harvested by third world people from the rain forests of the world, for instance, to get the black substance that is used in cell phones.

Like so many things, economics has much to do with what happens. Work has been done in certain states over the years to address the issues of growing sustainable materials like hemp for fiber and in investigating the use of alternative fibers in general. At one time, alternative fibers were considered competition for paper recycling in its early stages. Hemp is an old source for strong long-length fibers and has legal issues, but the applications for its fibers are numerous. It can be used to make clothing as well as paper. Some states have attempted to make it possible for farmers to be licensed to grow hemp as a fiber source. Wouldn’t it be nice if forests did not have to be cut and re-cut because we utilized more fibers like hemp or linen.

There will be arguments by industrialists for their products and practices, and by conservationists for making changes until funding can be found to start a healthy industry for alternative fiber and this is already happening. My point is that all the resources of the world, especially the rare and precious ones, ought to be considered or reconsidered in the light of new world markets and the energy crises we face today.  Sustainability needs to be foremost in peoples’ minds.

Alternative fiber links


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