The Optimal Material to Make Paper: Kenaf

Tree pulp is not an optimal material for paper making. An elaborate series of steps is necessary to mechanically and chemically break down the rigid source material into usable pulp, and further processes are needed to render it white and smooth enough for printing. Non-tree sources such as kenaf, hemp and recycled rags are optimal materials for making paper. Kenaf in particular was identified by the USDA as being the most viable plant to replace trees in paper making. The kenaf plant is an annual hibiscus related to cotton.Kenaf's 240 varieties have been researched by the USDA for over 40 years. Kenaf contains approximately 25 percent less lignin than wood fiber, which translates into lower chemical and energy requirements in the pulping process. Kenaf reaches 12-18 feet in 150 days, while southern pine (a species commonly grown on tree plantations) must grow 14 to 17 years before it can be harvested. Kenaf also yields more fiber per acre than southern pine producing 5-10 tons of dry fiber per acre, or approximately 3 to 5 times as much as southern pine.

Hemp produces 3 to 6 tons of usable fiber per year, which makes it many times better than wood but not as good as kenaf for paper. Both hemp and kenaf are hardy plants requiring minimal water, fertilizer or pesticides.

Compared with wood-pulp paper used for printing newspapers, tests have shown kenaf paper as stronger, whiter, less yellowing, capable of sharper photo reproduction, and more user-friendly due to better ink adherence (thus requiring less ink and resulting in less ink ruboff on readers' hands). Mixing kenaf pulp with recycled newspapers improves the quality of the recycled paper.

Kenaf was also recently used to create the world's thinnest paper in Japan.

The only company in the U.S. that produces kenaf paper is Vision Paper in New Mexico. You can read more about the man behind Vision Paper here.

You can buy kenaf seeds from The Seedman.