Saturday, October 24, 2009

What Nasty Chemicals Are Lurking in Your Paper?

Almost all discussions about the environmental friendliness of papers focus on the fiber, but perhaps we should pay more attention to the non-fiber ingredients.

The new controversy about cash-register receipts and the emergence of “biolatex” underscore the growing concern about the chemicals that papers contain.

ScienceNews revealed recently that many carbonless copy papers, which are typically used for cash-register and credit-card receipts, contain high levels of bisphenol-A (BPA). Research showing that the estrogen-mimicking chemical was leaching out of plastic bottles has led to calls for tighter regulation, but ScienceNews quotes a researcher who says the BPA exposure from carbonless copy papers is far greater.

Meanwhile, the folks at Better Paper, an environmental-advocacy organization, are touting the benefits of a new corn-derived biolatex known as EcoSphere as a replacement for traditional petroleum-derived latex in coated paper.

“Several major paper manufacturers are already testing EcoSphere® biolatex™ binder in their coating formulations,” writes Jeff van Leeuwen of EcoSynthetix, which manufactures the product, at Better Paper's blog. As far as I know, none of the paper makers have gone public with their use of EcoSphere.

The product has a lower carbon footprint, is friendlier to recycling operations, and costs less than traditional latex, the company claims. It’s also biodegradable.

Other chemicals that are frequently used in papers include various plastics, titanium dioxide, and calcium carbonates.

Calcium carbonates are a mixed bag environmentally. Some people have promoted rock-based papers (which are mostly limestone-derived calcium carbonates) as being green because they are "tree free". And precipitated calcium carbonate (PCC) is sometimes considered a “carbon sink” because it is produced by combining carbon-dioxide emissions with lime.

But limestone doesn’t exactly grow on trees; it has to be mined. And its transformation into lime for shipment to PCC plants doesn’t exactly sound like an environmentally sustainable enterprise.

Then there’s bleach, which is commonly used to brighten papers but is also really good at killing just about everything. That leads me to Stupid Question #1: When you use white toilet paper, are you putting bleach on your derriere?

And that leads me to Stupid Question #2: Why do we insist on having such white toilet paper – or, for that matter, TP that’s been dyed, decorated, or perfumed? Do you really want those chemicals, how shall we say, traveling to Uranus? Or dumped into the sewer system?

Please see the following articles for more information about the environmental implications of:

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