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Banana Paper
Jamais Cascio, 11 Jan 06

Current methods of making paper are often toxic, wasteful of water and energy, and terribly unsustainable. Recycling only goes so far; what's needed is an alternative method of making paper that is less-harmful to begin with. Papyrus Australia thinks they have that alternative: Banana Ply Paper.

Optimal parameters for an environmentally friendly but highly sustainable paper production industry include: Renewable raw materials: preferably a non-seasonal secondary fibre crop of which the BTT is a prime example given that it is cropped continually all year round; Low water usage: preferably none; Low energy usage: and preferably usage of renewable energy; Low levels of introduced chemical additives, preferably none; Low effluent discharge: preferably none, but with any discharge being non-toxic and non-pollutive.

PapyrusÂ’ technology meets those criteria: BTT [Banana Tree Trunk, a waste product from banana farming] is the source of fibre; Production takes place amidst the plantations which reduces transport requirements and resultant pollution; No external water supply is used during the production process; Minimal amounts of energy are needed; There are no introduced chemical additives in the production process; No effluent is discharges or released into the environment: the only by-products are fluid (basically water) from the banana plant and off cuts usable as mulch which will be returned to the plantations from which supply of raw material is sourced.

What's more, production costs for banana paper are estimated to be less than one-fifth those of traditional pulp paper, and the capital investment costs just 3% of those required for pulp paper production. The big question: is there enough banana production to keep up with the global demand for paper?

(Thanks for the tip, David Chan)

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Comments

At last, some real income for the Banana Republics? Seriously.


Posted by: JN2 on 11 Jan 06

I'm nearly certain you can't have enough banana trees to meet world demand, especially because of the limited range that banana trees can grow in. However, there are other plants that can also serve the pulp function whose yield is far higher than that of the trees we use today, and whose growth range is probably much wider. There are many options.

Yet, here we are heavily subsidizing the forestry industry and the farming industry, the former subsidy to cut down forests to turn into paper, and the other subsidy to allow farmers to keep fields fallow. Ridiculous. We're paying Peter to rob Paul.


Posted by: erik on 11 Jan 06

The best solution for displacing wood as a fiber source is, alas, the weed with roots in hell: india hemp. Grows really fast, has a wide range, producse superb fiber, and takes much less processing (energy, water, chemicals) to extract the fiber vs. wood.

I say "alas" because the western world seems to have a major problem with some of the, er, side benefits of this marvelous plant.

Banana trunks sound really cool but the unintended side effect could be the destruction of tropical zone forest and habitat to build more banana plantations. And new paper mills. Paper is produced and consumed in mind boggling quantities. When you say paper, people think of books and newspapers and their laser printers. They forget all about boxboard and corrugated and packaging. Consider the amount of paper used in, say, the grocery supply chain--most of it consumed and disposed of long before someone asks you "paper or plastic."

Also, a lot of the harmful pollutants from the paper industry come from activity taking place AFTER the fiber has been extracted from the wood--I'm talking here about dioxins that come from bleaching color out of the fiber so we can put our bright shiny printing on it. In short, from processes not displaced by using banana trunks instead of wood chips.


Posted by: dgeorge on 11 Jan 06

From the site - "Papyrus takes an abundant waste product and makes paper in an economical process that uses no chemicals, no water, and about 1% of the energy conventionally used."

You make a good point regarding regarding the paper industry consisting mainly of packaging (rather than copy paper). This is the market targetted by the paper product - dioxins and bleach are therefore largely absent.

Also considering the product is created from secondary crop it is a double win situation in that it is using the waste product from one industry (which is either discarded or burned) to produce product for another.

The technology, once proven, should be transferrable to other secondary crops.

The website is interesting. check it out.


Posted by: takyn on 11 Jan 06

As with all such things one has to be careful to make sure what they are saying is whats realy going on. In this case it isnt.

The way paper is made changed quite a bit several times in recent decades. The result is much of paper made today doesnt use ANY of the processes cited in most talk about paper production.

In simple terms they keep using the same baseline data even tho the world kept moving.


Posted by: wintermane on 12 Jan 06

was it on this blog I read about bannanas possibly becoming endangered again due to infection? They reporduce through tap roots hence their genetic spread isn't as varied hence one particular type of virus can take them all out. I was under the impression a GM variant of bannanas was being made.

here we go:
snipped becuase your spam guard said it was "questionable content" so just google are bannas dying out?

at the very least it's only the sweet kind that are threatened.

peace,
A


Posted by: andrew on 12 Jan 06

BTW apparently the questionable content wasn't the link it was my use of a word for reproduction with out ya know polinating and stuff so the link is here:

http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb3120/is_200502/ai_n13136898


Posted by: andrew on 12 Jan 06

Wintermane, I'm surprised by your comment. I live in a major paper-producing state, and we feel the effects of paper-making all around us. The technology hasn't fundamentally changed for many decades. There have been some improvements in pollution control, but the industry still is capital intensive, still relies on trees for pulp, still uses sulphuric acid to dissolve the lignins in the pulp, still uses a lot of energy for steam, still bleaches with chlorine (we have a hideous legacy of mercury contamination here - it was a "byproduct" of making chlorine), and still produces small amounts of dioxin. (Unfortunately, dioxins bioaccumulate, so even small amounts are trouble.)

Many of the folks working in the forestry and paper industries are smart, professional, and well-intentioned. They've done a lot to lessen pollution from the mills. But it's still a capital-intensive, energy-intensive "buggy whip" industry. Making paper from biomass waste, especially non-woody plants, is a big improvement. (Even better might be reusable polymers, as proposed by Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart.)

You're generally an optimistic person, so I'm surprised that you take a dim view of this news.


Posted by: David Foley on 12 Jan 06

Odd around here a ton of newer paper types have come out based around various other methods of making paper. Hell even our toilet paper changed several times in the last 20 years and I mean realy thats toilet paper for goodness sakes.


Posted by: wintermane on 12 Jan 06

In terms, of volume, banana industry waste runs about 100 million tonnes (dry weight) per year, that is on existing commercial plantations, world paper production is around 325 million tonnes, so Banana could displace a considerable volume before supply became an issue.

Unlike Hemp (a wonderful fiber for many uses), and any of the other fibers that I have seen proposed as tree replacements, banana trunks are an existing waste product and so doesn't require forest clearing to grow it.

Papyrus's process which involves veneering rather than pulping reduces energy needs by around 99%, and removes the requirements for huge amounts of water and waste, so its environmentally beneficial.

- Mitra Ardron, Natural Innovation

(full disclosure, I used to work for Papyrus Australia, though I have no formal connection any more, and don't speak for the company any longer)


Posted by: Mitra Ardron on 12 Jan 06

I'm sure banana stalk fiber could be great for local use in paper products so that rural tropical areas can be self sufficient. But to think of banana fiber as becoming just another industrial resource means the stalks which should be reintroduced to the soil, now would leave the plantations and decrease fertility.

While living in polynesia I did not see banana stalks "wasted." Maybe it is different on the big plantations, but I doubt it. Yes, bananas are better than douglas firs, but try being realistic and target a smaller market share and let each bioregion produce the best fiber from it most appropriate crop.


Posted by: Greg Dardis on 14 Jan 06

"I say "alas" because the western world seems to have a major problem with some of the, er, side benefits of this marvelous plant."

Let's all remember that the THC contents of industrial hemp (i.e. hemp cultivated for its fibrous qualities, not for its psycoactive THC content) is VERY low. You would get about as high smoking industrial hemp as you would from smoking a banana!

The issue with hemp is largely that it looks just like its illegal cousin, Mary Jane, and the U.S. has traditionally been opposed to it due to the threats of hemp farmers hiding marijuana plants inside their plantations (personally, I don't think that a few folks getting high is sufficient harm to justify wasting this miracly plant, but then again, I don't run the country). A strong opposition from all of the industries which hemp threatens - forestry, cotton, even the tobacco industry - as well as numerous misconceptions (like the one quoted above) about industrial hemp's potential use as a drug doesn't help matters either.

One thing I like to point out, though, is that hemp is hardly un-American - the original copies of the U.S. Constitution were printed on hemp paper and many of our founding fathers, including Jefferson and Washington reportedly grew hemp on their plantations... (could they have smoked a bit of the ganja as well? ... I'll let you decide...)


Posted by: Jesse Jenkins on 14 Jan 06



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