Guest Author - Terri Paajanen
Now, everyone knows that the paper manufacturing process is one of the most environmentally UN-friendly industries there is. Besides the vast numbers of trees that are destroyed in order to make paper, the amount of pollution created is enormous. It always seems odd to me, considering how simple and harmless paper is.
One of the biggest sources of pollution in the pulp-to-paper process, is the chlorine used to bleach the paper. Ironically, this bleaching is the most unnecessary of steps, in my opinion. How important is it that our paper products are bright and shiny white? Oxygen or ozone bleaching is much safer and produces much less pollution than bleaching done with chlorine. Unfortunately, these methods are still not being adopted by North American paper manufacturers. So when choosing products, not only should you buy recycled, try to find either unbleached or oxygen bleached products.
Sulfur-based compounds are used in the bleaching process, as well as to break down the sturdy fibers of the wood pulp. Sulfur dioxide is produced and released as exhaust from the mill. On top of that, paper mills produce sulfur dioxide through the burning of fossil fuels (large mills often have their own internal power plants). Sulfur dioxide is of particular concern because it is water soluble and is a major cause of acid rain.
Dioxins are organic chemicals, much like the pesticide DDT, and considered by some to be the most toxic man-made chemical there is. Dioxin produced by the paper industry is a by-product of the chlorine and chlorine-based bleaching process. As mentioned above, unbleached or non-chlorine bleached paper is the environmental alternative.
Hydrogen sulfide is one of the gases that give pulp and paper mills their characteristic aroma. It has an unmistakable smell of rotten eggs. It is produced during the cooking of the pulp, to help break down the fibers.
These are just a few examples of the pollution that comes from the paper manufacturing process. Other pollutants include: carbon monoxide, ammonia, nitrogen oxides, mercury, nitrates, methanol, benzene and more. These chemicals are released into the air and water from most paper mills.
Keep this toxic list in mind when shopping for your paper products. Buy recycled and un-bleached as often as you can. Even better, use non-paper alternatives.