Saturday, April 11, 2009

the paper industry

As graphic designers, we produce a lot of waste. (I LOVE paper, and I'm sure most of you do too.) Fortunately, most of us are very aware of that and do our best to conserve when it is possible. But, maybe we aren't doing enough. I read this article from the Nation today about some mischief in the paper industry and feel pretty disgusted.
"Thanks to an obscure tax provision, the United States government stands to pay out as much as $8 billion this year to the ten largest paper companies. And get this: even though the money comes from a transportation bill whose manifest intent was to reduce dependence on fossil fuel, paper mills are adding diesel fuel to a process that requires none in order to qualify for the tax credit. In other words, we are paying the industry--handsomely--to use more fossil fuel.


Enter the paper industry. Since the 1930s the overwhelming majority of paper mills have employed what's called the kraft process to produce paper. Here's how it works. Wood chips are cooked in a chemical solution to separate the cellulose fibers, which are used to make paper, from the other organic material in wood. The remaining liquid, a sludge containing lignin (the structural glue that binds plant cells together), is called black liquor. Because it's so rich in carbon, black liquor is a good fuel; the kraft process uses the black liquor to produce the heat and energy necessary to transform pulp into paper. It's a neat, efficient process that's cost-effective without any government subsidy.

"Seventy-three percent of the energy we use in our mill system we produce," says Ann Wrobleski, IP's vice president for global government relations. "We feel like we're the original green industry, if you will." (In developed nations, paper is the third-largest industrial greenhouse gas emitter, behind the steel and chemical industries.)

By adding diesel fuel to the black liquor, paper companies produce a mixture that qualifies for the mixed-fuel tax credit, allowing them to burn "black liquor into gold," as a JPMorgan report put it. It's unclear who first came up with the idea--Wrobleski told me it was "outside consultants"--but at some point last fall IP and Verso, another paper company, formerly a part of IP, began adding diesel to its black liquor and applied to the IRS for the credit. (Verso nabbed $29.7 million at just one of its mills in the final quarter of 2008 for its use of mixed fuel.)"

You can read the rest of the article here.

Could the Paper Industry have proposed an addition to the legislation that included companies who already use alternative fuels? If they had brought this issue to the light in Congress, would Congress have any choice but to say yes? How could the leaders of the paper industry agree to such an unethical strategy? How could they be so insensitive to the well-being of this country and the world?

Although I am incredibly disheartened by this reality, it has opened my eyes just a little bit more to the opportunities for change and activism within the design world.

1 comment:

  1. The Professor is a parakeet. He is silly and has a surfboard.