Know Your Alternative Paper Fibres

More and more customers these days are seeking to print on alternative fibres to help communicate their own sustainability messaging plus ensure they choose the best possible paper for recycling.


Paper is produced from cellulose fibres, most commonly sourced from trees – preferably trees from sustainably grown and managed forests for virgin fibres but also from recycled paper.

What Are Alternative Fibres?

The key ingredient in papermaking is cellulose which is derived from the vegetable fibres found in trees and other plants.  Wood fibre (including recycled fibre) is by far the most common source used in modern papermaking due to its cost-effective availability, relatively high proportion of cellulose and reliable technical characteristics.

Alternative fibres come from grasses, seed hairs and other parts of plants such as bast fibres and leaves, and have historically been used as well, albeit in relatively low volumes.


Types of Alternative Fibres

In principle, almost any plant fibre can be used to make paper but the characteristics vary and few are commercially viable…

  • STRAW – was once used widely but has traditionally suffered drawbacks such as slow drainage during papermaking and greater pollution potentially as well as a higher cost and lower quality result compared to wood pulp.
  • COTTON & LINEN – are excellent papermaking fibres with a very high cellulose content giving a superior strength and a luxurious feel but at a much higher cost.
  • BAMBOO – has similar technical characteristics to wood pulp and is used commercially in some parts of the world albeit in relatively small quantities.
  • BAGASSE – the fibrous residue after extraction of sugar from sugar cane behaves similarly to straw but is more difficult to process.
  • SUGAR BEET – has some potential because of a low lignin content but is unproven at scale.


Potential Benefits of Alternative Fibres

There are in principle appealing reasons to consider using alternative fibres in papermaking. It may have greater local availability in non-forest areas and, annual growth and harvesting may represent a comparatively high yield of fibre per hectare when viewed over the short term. To some degree, this could reduce the transport impacts of importing wood pulp and help to reduce pressure on forest resources.

Importantly, there is potential to make use of what could become agricultural waste, particularly in countries where this may otherwise be burnt.

From a production perspective, the lower cellulose content of some alternative fibres could mean less processing is required and so reduced energy consumption and pollution potential.


Watch This Space

The print and paper industry worldwide continues to research and assess all options for the benefit of our environment. Investment in new technology and new machinery is also helping us in these endeavours.

In the meantime, recycling is the best solution for managing our paper resource – it is easy, low cost and 100% sustainable.



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