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Canadian Businesses Experiment With Wheat Based Paper

When Canadian Geographic magazine printed a recent issue on paper containing wheat waste, it was the result of four years of work and an attempt to move the paper and pulp industry in a new direction.

The magazine's June issue was made with 20 percent wheat straw, 40 percent recycled fiber and 40 percent virgin wood-based pulp. Wheat straw is the leftover waste from grain farming. A typical issue is made with paper that contains 70 percent virgin wood pulp and 30 percent recycled fiber.

The effort was a collaboration between the magazine, printer Dollco, the Alberta Research Council, environmental group Markets Initiative and paper maker NewPage.

Two of the barriers the groups ran up against were removing silica from the wheat straw and finding a way to pulp the straw. Wheat straw has a higher silica content than wood fiber (3-7 percent compared to 1 percent) and silica turns to glass when the material is heated during the pulping process. The Alberta Research Council worked out a way to remove the silica, but another issue was how to pulp the straw locally.

No straw-pulping facilities exist in Canada, and so the pulp was brought in from China, which has a long history of using agricultural waste to make paper.

According to the parties involved in the test of wheat-based paper, Canadian farmers produce about 21 million tons of wheat straw a year, which could be turned into 8 million tons of pulp. The waste is currently used as livestock bedding or plowed back into the soil.

In its June issue, along with explaining how the wheat-based paper came about, Canadian Geographic said that for the next time it uses wheat-based paper, it wants to use paper that was pulped in a Canadian mill, and made with straw from Canadian farmers.

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