Paper companies are working hard to be greener all the time. Almost all belong to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and plant as many trees as they harvest. But just replacing trees isn’t the only issue. The following somewhat harsh piece comes from the blog Dead Tree Edition (deadtreeedition.blogspot.com).

Environmental Impact of Paper Goes Way Beyond Cutting Trees

Almost any discussion of paper manufacturing’s environmental impact focuses on cutting trees and protecting forests. But five news reports in the past week provide a reminder of other environmental issues surrounding paper making:

  • An Environmental Protection Agency study of a former paper Montana paper mill found “potentially dangerous levels of dioxins, heavy metals and other hazardous chemicals,” according to the Missoulian. The results could lead to the former Smurfit Stone property becoming a Superfund site, as well as concerns about what would happen if a levee on the property failed.
  • The site of an abandoned paper mill in Tennessee has been proposed as a Superfund site because of PCB and dioxin contamination.
  • A trial began this week on charges that a lawyer duped buyers of a New York paper mill by not disclosing it had been declared a Superfund site. (Are you noticing a pattern here?)
  • International Paper received regulatory approval for an extensive upgrade of the wastewater treatment plant at itsBogalusa, LA mill. A failure of the plant under previous ownership last year caused a discharge of black liquor, an especially nasty and infamous pulp byproduct, killing hundreds of thousands of fish and fouling the Pearl River.
  • A power outage last week at a Glatfelter mill in Pennsylvania caused the release of 6,000 gallons of pulp and contaminated water into a nearby stream.

Regardless of how it sources its fiber, can a paper company be considered green if it fouls waterways, spews high levels of toxins and greenhouse gases into the air, uses carcinogenic additives, or reveals as little as possible about its environmental impact? No, not when there are competitors using best practices to minimize emissions, operating mills that are nearly carbon neutral, switching to safer materials, and going way beyond what the law requires in reporting their environmental practices and measurements.

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