Raw materials used in the paper industry can be broadly classified as pulp, chemicals, sizing elements, fillers, and coloring agents. Pulp is one of the most critical inputs in the process. The pulp can be sourced from different materials, while wood remains the predominantly known source, in public discourse.
Alternatives to the wood pulp can be put into few broad categories like agricultural residue, waste paper, and fiber crops. Many producers are open to exploring these non-wood alternatives. However, in some circumstances, they have to compete with the alternative uses of these materials.
Some of the most common alternatives to wood pulp are as follows:
Bagasse refers to the residue of sugarcane left after extracting the juice. It contains a very high concentration of cellulose, making it a perfect alternative to wood pulp. India being one of the major producers of sugarcane, provides good scope to the pulp and paper industry to explore this alternative. Bagasse can be used to make both printing and tissue paper. However, bagasse is also used for power generation. A large amount of bagasse is diverted towards this purpose, therefore making it sparsely available for paper production.
Straw is again another agricultural by-product. It refers to the dry stalks of plants, specifically cereal plants after the grains have been removed. Being an agriculture-driven economy, pulp and paper manufacturers again have the opportunity to explore this option. But most of it is either diverted for power generation or just burnt after removing the grains.
Kenaf is a plant grown predominantly in South America for fiber. It is 100% recyclable and also replenishes the land in which it is grown, making it a very desirable plant to be cultivated. It is used as an alternative to the wood pulp in countries where it is produced.
Paper produced from cotton is much more durable, strong, and costlier than wood. However, durability is very critical when it comes to the official document and hence it is used in many countries to print currency.
Waste paper is one of the most common raw materials in many pulp mills, reducing both environmental waste and promoting recycling. However, what is important to ensure that the cycle goes on is the disposal mechanism. Paper waste should be collected and segregated properly, so that recycling is facilitated. If the disposal of paper is not done with care, it will not be possible to use it back in the system as raw material.
Other than these, alternatives such as bamboo and jute also exist. The choice of raw materials at the end of the day depends on the qualities required in the end product and the economics behind it. The alternatives give way for better waste management and recycling making the industry even more sustainable.