While investigating the situation in Clayoquot Sound I made friends with a Greenpeace associate. We didn’t agree on everything, but we each trusted the other and stayed in touch. A few months after the trip he asked if I would participate in a test program to make newsprint from rice straw.
Representatives from Greenpeace, The Forest Alliance and Al Wong came to our Paradise CA plant in 1995. Al was using rice straw as a substitute for up to 30% of the material usually used to make pulp, which reduced the need for wood or waste paper while creating a use for agricultural waste. They were looking for a mill to turn the pulp into paper and printers to use the paper. I was thrilled. In Paradise the burning rice straw led to the burning of my eyes often.
We were the first newspaper to sign up. I facilitated the connection between Al and Smurfit Newsprint that produced the paper, which Al called Agripulp. Smurfit produced great recycled paper. Employees later bought the company and changed the name to Blue Heron. Blue Heron went out of business last year due to a lack of waste paper caused by exports to China. Sad to think the rice straw project could possibly have kept this recycled mill and others from failing.
Some hangers on crashed the Agripulp party, LA Times, Sacramento Bee, Santa Rosa Press Democrat and San Jose Mercury News. It was actually pretty cool to read articles, including this press release from Cal EPA in which Paradise Post was on the list with such big time newspapers.
Everything went brilliantly. Greenpeace, The American Lung Association, Cal EPA and others scheduled a news conference in Sacramento to celebrate. My friend from Greenpeace invited me to speak. The morning of the press conference he called to let me know Greenpeace was dropping out along with Forest Alliance. I was dismayed, “Why? It worked so well.”
“The mill can’t prove the pulp was 100% post-consumer waste or that trees didn’t come from disputed native land” he said.
I was dumbfounded. We were involved in an historic program that would turn agricultural waste from a hazard to be burned into newsprint and they were walking away from it.
Al Wong’s dreams were ecologically and financially sound, well presented and doomed. He wanted to build small pulp and paper mills in agricultural locations near urban areas. Mix pulp made from agricultural waste with waste newsprint to make truly superior newsprint. Unlike 100% Post-Consumer Waste (PCW) newsprint which loses its strength due to loss of fiber, Agripulp used fibers from the rice straw to bind the waste paper together. Agripulp was great.
The environmentalists dropped out because the first Agripulp just wasn’t perfect enough. Industrialists backed out because while Cal EPA supported Agripulp, the hoops the mills would have to jump through seemed too high, the cost too large. There was no government support. So, Al went back to his basement lab in Canada and built a small test mill with his own money. That is as far as it has gone.
The rice burns in the valley, the air is noxious. Trees fall in the Canadian forest just to make paper. I am still dumbfounded. Al still dreams. Wish him well. We need dreamers.