Eye on the Environment- June 2009

Timber sustainable? You must have rocks in your head…
A new paper made from rocks is “very eco-friendly” because it doesn’t contain any acid, alkali, bleach – or timber. At least that’s what the UK distributor, Duraflex Agency Ltd, has said of EnPlus Rock Paper. Duraflex MD Chris Burton said because EnPlus was not sourced from timber, “it helps to preserve the earth’s forests”.


He has a point – assuming his reference is to old growth forests and not about preserving mono-cultural plantations.


EnPlus comprises 80 per cent calcium carbonate bonded with high density polyethylene (HDPE). “Calcium carbonate”, is, of course, limestone. Natural limestone has formed over thousands of years and, being composed of biologically originating fragments, one can often spot the small fossils of marine invertebrates.


Duraflex’s marketing materials make no reference to marine-invertebrate fossils, but they do say that “limestone or CaCO3 … is constantly being replaced by the Earth’s rivers”.


Although possibly not as quickly as a softwood plantation tree can grow. One presumes. Remembering one’s geography lessons at school about the formation of sedimentary rock, and how it takes a very long time to form.


While we’re on water, Duraflex says EnPlus doesn’t need any during the manufacturing process, plus, any waste materials generated during manufacture are put back into the process, so there are “no waste contaminants to pollute rivers and streams”.


(The other type of limestone is the reconstituted variety – manufactured by humans, using crushed waste stone from quarries. But to make it, you need to use water; with the “no water use” mentioned, it leads one to think EnPlus uses natural limestone. Hmmm. Eco-friendly? Sustainable? What if we run out of fossil fuels to run our cars and fossilised rock to make our papers at the same time? Fred Flintstone might have been onto something – with the car, that is…)


Duraflex says EnPlus can be recycled with traditional paper, but, given that it’s 20 to 30 per cent non-toxic resin, the company recommends recycling with plastic streams. In landfill, EnPlus will begin to degrade within six months, and be back to dust within two to three years, accelerated by direct exposure to UV light, warmth and moisture. These factors burn off the HDPE binding agent, and further weathering breaks down any remaining HDPE chains, leaving behind a calcium carbonate residue. (Good thing the Egyptian pyramids in Giza were only cast with limestone concrete…).


The landfill issue, says Burton, was part of the push behind the product. He told FoodProductionDaily.com that much of the UK’s packaging waste ended up in the tip because the region’s waste disposal systems weren’t sophisticated enough. “So in that regard, this material, sourced from natural minerals, provides a much greener alternative to plastic.”


Besides no water and a cleaner manufacturing process, Duraflex says the energy needed to produce a tonne of EnPlus is between 25 and 50 per cent less than pulp and synthetic paper.


Duraflex says EnPlus’s applications include water and grease-resistant paper replacement for general print, packaging board replacement, bindery and book making, corrugated laminate, degradable self-adhesive labelling, flow wrapping, signage and display media, tags and tickets, inkjet moulding, inkjet photo papers and wide-format inkjet media. Grades range from 80 micron to 800 micron.


The company doesn’t see it replacing plastic in all food applications (not being as rigid), but positive factors are that it folds and creases well, is waterproof and offers excellent moisture-barrier properties.


With UK food-application trials under way of the Asian-manufactured rock paper – including the goal of EnPlus replacing laminated board and coated paper in frozen food packaging – it will be interesting to see whether companies jump on board, as Duraflex hopes, “seeking to boost their green credentials” by employing the timber-free paper that uses ancient rock. Or whether they’ll stick with paper made from timber harvested from sustainable plantations.


Anti-mill lobby stoked at legal bombshell
A leading constitutional law expert fuelled the anti-mill lobby last month by claiming the Tasmanian Government’s approval for the proposed pulp mill was invalid.


Senior University of Tasmania law lecturer, Michael Stokes, told The Australian newspaper that his detailed analysis revealed a “fatal flaw” in the assessment process carried out by Scandinavian consultants Sweco Pic. Stokes says the $2 billion pulp mill, proposed by Gunns Ltd for the Tamar Valley, is open to a legal challenge due to a failure to fully assess it under state legislation that was actually designed to fast track the proposal.


The Australian says the then-Lennon Government introduced The Pulp Mill Assessment Act, which allows the independent planning process to be sidestepped, if consultants recommended the mill could proceed. Section 4 states this can only occur after the consultants “undertake an assessment of the project … against the (pulp mill) guidelines”.


But Sweco Pic’s June 2007 assessment report says they did not assess the project against 15 of the mill guidelines, those relating to “permit conditions, monitoring and the operation of the pulp mill”, claiming at that point in the project, it was “not practical to undertake an assessment of these latter requirements”.


And it’s this eschewing, Stokes says, that’s the legal “time bomb”. He told ABC Radio it was not up to Sweco Pic – hired by the Lennon Government – to restrict the assessment.


Stokes said, “These deficiencies are so major that we don’t have an assessment required by the Act.” He said the failure to fully assess the mill means Sweco Pic had no power to recommend the mill went ahead.


Vica Bailey, from The Wilderness Society, said this latest cloud of legal action should make the mill less appealing for investors. He told ABC Radio the new advice represented “an incredibly high risk for any potential financier”.


A spokesman for Gunns said Stokes’s claim was “petty” and “ridiculous”, that Gunns has legal advice the project is operating under valid legislation and, therefore, was not open to legal challenge.

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