Plantations, poverty and power: Section 5

6 Feb

By Chris Lang. Published by World Rainforest Movement, December 2008

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Conclusion and recommendations

It is usual in a report such as this to provide recommendations. After all, we want the pulp and paper industry to improve. However, as this report has hopefully shown, voluntary certification schemes or voluntary guidelines have completely failed to produce the structural changes needed in the industry. They have even failed to improve the industry by preventing the most disastrous projects from going ahead.

Networks of NGOs in North America, Europe and Indonesia have produced “Visions” of how they would like to see the pulp and paper industry develop. These “Visions” contain much that is good, such as a more than 50 per cent reduction of paper production in the case of the European Environmental Paper Vision. But they don’t go far enough in proposing a radical restructuring of the industry in such a way that would make redundant the massive industrial tree plantations that the industry is increasingly relying on.

Here is another vision of the pulp and paper industry.

    “[I]magine a future scenario: All your separated household waste is collected from outside your house and transported to the local combined and very small power/pulp/paper mill. What used to go to landfill goes straight to the fluidized bed boiler along with everything that can be burnt (not paper!) for the supply of local energy. Your paper for recycling then goes into the pulp mill, along with any local farmers’ raw material waste that can be used for pulp. Then tissue and toilet rolls, cut size A4 and any other paper products that can be made in a miniature, fully automated mill, are produced and then delivered to the local supermarkets ready for the repeat of the next short, lifecycle.”[699]

Before you dismiss this as hopelessly radical or out of touch with the real world, I should point out that this “Vision” comes from Pulp and Paper International, a magazine produced for the industry and which usually promotes business as usual for the industry. While we could (and should) argue about whether we really want all our waste to be incinerated (given the pollution involved) and need to discuss with local communities where these minimills are to be built, the proposal to restructure the industry using small scale regional mills would avoid many of the problems created by today’s pulp and paper industry. It would also help address the problem of overproduction by producing paper that is needed locally. It would also create jobs.

A UK-based company, BioRegional, has developed such “minimills”. The mills were originally designed to be used in China, where thousands of small scale mills which used agricultural residues as raw material have been closed down – partly because they are polluting, but also partly to allow the restructuring of the industry with massive pulp and paper mills, to a large extent reliant on imported pulp. BioRegional’s minimills would allow China’s small-scale mills to be replaced with far less polluting versions, rather than closed down.[700] But the minimills could be used anywhere.

In her 1997 book, “The U.S. Paper Industry and Sustainable Production: An Argument for Restructuring”, Maureen Smith looks at the possibilities of restructuring the North American pulp and paper industry along ecological lines. She concludes that a complete restructuring is the only way that the industry can begin to address the environmental problems that it has created.[701]

With this sort of alternative structure of the pulp and paper industry in mind, the following list is a suggestion for how paper should be produced. It is not intended to be a set of guidelines for investing in a “sustainable” pulp and paper industry. Instead it is intended to be a way of alerting both the industry and its financiers to the problems currently created by the industry.

Paper should be produced:

  • without destroying native forests;
  • without establishing large scale monoculture tree plantations;
  • without impacting on local peoples’ rights and access to land and livelihoods;
  • without resulting in extensive environmental impacts: depletion of water resources, biodiversity loss, introduction of invasive species;
  • without polluting air, water and soils; and
  • without benefiting from government direct or indirect subsidies (including ECAs, multilateral banks, or bilateral aid).

Any pulp mill project that cannot meet these guidelines should not be funded and should not be built.

This may seem impossible to achieve, or hopelessly idealistic. But there is no such thing as “responsible investment” in the pulp and paper industry, as it currently exists. Why should the industry be allowed to continue establishing vast areas of monoculture tree plantations in the South? Why should the industry be allowed to “restructure” by sacking thousands of workers in the North while it employs cheaper labour in dangerous and often temporary jobs in the global South? Why should the industry continue to expand, continue to promote wasteful consumption and continue to produce huge amounts of greenhouse gases? Why should the pulp and paper industry be allowed to continue destroying local communities’ and Indigenous Peoples’ livelihoods and environments?

Currently, development “aid” is one of the factors that helps to support the industry to continue business as usual, rather than looking for innovative solutions to the problems that it is creating. For this reason, this report demands an end to “aid” to industrial tree plantations. It also demands an end to “aid” to the pulp and paper industry, for the simple reason that aid is supposed to promote development which is beneficial to communities in the South. Industrial tree plantations and the pulp and paper industry are not beneficial to communities in the South.


[699] Mark Rushton (2008) “Global spotlight, local microscope”, Pulp and Paper International, August 2008, page 3.

[700] A description of the BioRegional MiniMills project is available here.

[701] Maureen Smith (1997) “The U.S. Paper Industry and Sustainable Production: An Argument for Restructuring”, MIT Press.

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