It never occurred to me that you could make paper out of anything other than cellulose fibers. Wrong, wrong. CaCO3, calcium carbonate, in combination with some 20% polyethylene resins makes a very paper-like material: mix it up and roll it out. Uses no wood, no water, no bleach. And the resultant sheet is foldable and waterproof. More tuned in than me Wired was writing about stone paper in 2013.

Calcium carbonate is no stranger to the paper making process: it’s a large ingredient in the chalky coating applied to “art papers”, what we call coated papers. If you want to make a smooth paper, suitable for the reproduction of color images in fine detail, various materials, including kaolinite, calcium carbonate, bentonite, and talc are used with synthetic viscosifiers to create a sort of paint which is applied to both sides of the sheet of paper as it rolls through the machine. Doctor blades and rollers regulate the amount of coating, and the resultant sandwich of coating-paper-coating can be more or less “polished” by calender rollers. Coating can also be applied to one side of the paper only: paperback covers are often printed on C1S (coated one side) board.

But here we are talking about making paper without any wood fiber: just with calcium carbonate, which is often available as a waste product. Hunter Bliss of Pebble Printing Group in Shenzen, China, talks about this development at Printing Impressions. He tells us of stone paper manufacturing being set up in China, India and Egypt. Tireless innovator, Mr Bliss is also working on printing on reconstituted plastic bottles turned into book covering material, a project he discusses at this second video interview. Stone paper looks just like paper, though it does feel smoother than wood fiber papers do: not that this is a disadvantage! It seems to be quite widely available: Amazon sent me some booklets overnight: I figured these would be good for notes made in the open air, even in the rain.

If you don’t see a video here please click on the title of this post in order to view it in your browser.

Will stone paper invade the world of books? On the face of it there’s no reason to doubt it: we just need to get the manufacturing up to scale and there would appear to be few reasons against it. Warnings about photodegradability and lack of heat resistance may sound ominous but of course a paper book left in the sun will decay too, and excessive heat was never a book’s friend. It’s true that most of the people talking stone paper up are involved in the business, and might therefore not be entirely objective, but problems exist to be solved, and there’s an obvious attraction in the idea of using waste marble with much reduced carbon dioxide emissions.

I wonder if binding might not be a limiting factor. The little booklets I bought are 48-pagers with perforations so you can tear out pages after you’ve made a note — apparently tearing is something stone paper isn’t very good at! These 48 pages are held by two wire staples. I dare say a needle could go through to allow for Smyth sewing, but I expect perfect binding might be problematic. In a paperback book, the perfect bound pages are held together by glue which adheres to each and every leaf by the bond formed between the adhesive and the roughened up fibers of the paper. Presumably trying to roughen up the edge of stone paper would be liable to just make it smoother, not rougher, there being no fibers there to raise. Still, maybe some sort of rock-solid adhesive can do the trick, while still permitting flexibility. If Mr Bliss is right and stone paper can really be made for about half the cost of “real” paper, maybe the economics of cheaper paper plus more expensive binding will work out for the book business.

A few years back I described a waterproof paper made by Rite in the Rain. This is a regular cellulose fiber paper to which a waterproof coating has been applied.