Vegan and environmental activist Woody Harrelson is always doing what he can to help the planet. He lives on a sustainable farm in Hawaii, travels to work in an eco-friendly bus, and really, really wants to save some trees.
For decades, Harrelson has been concerned about the vast number of trees toppled by the paper industry. It started back in 1992, when he teamed up with Peter Bahouth of Greenpeace and other environmentalists to fight a bill that would have made millions of acres of wilderness in Montana available to loggers. Even though they were successful in their fight, Harrelson realized that stopping the logging in Montana didn’t really solve the problem.
He thought, “Geez, even if you do stop the deforestation here or there, the timber industry just goes somewhere else. You really need to change systems.”
So, naturally, Harrelson embarked on a journey to create wood-free paper. In the late 90s, he partnered with Canadian entrepreneur Jeff Golfman to figure out how to make that happen. They co-founded a company, Prairie Pulp and Paper, and over 15 years, managed to create a product which is composed of 80 percent wheat straw waste.
Back in 2010, Prairie Pulp and Paper’s chlorine and tree-free paper hit shelves in a prototype run. The prototype was successful: It was found to have the least amount of environmental impact among North American copy papers, including 100% recycled paper, and Harrelson started talking about building a plant. Last fall, he said, “When we build a plant there in Manitoba, it’s going to be 100 percent wood free. . . really from agricultural waste.”
The plan is still moving forward. That first product, Step Forward Paper, is available in more than 300 Staples stores across North America, and Harrelson wants to open multiple manufacturing plants within the next few years to expand production and availability.
In a new interview with Grist, Harrelson talked about his vision.
“This is a paradigm shift. To make this paper from non-wood, if you think about it, every year [timber companies are] cutting down anywhere from 3 to 6 billion trees. Half of that’s going to paper. It’s unsustainable,” he said. “Right now, we’re using 400 million metric tons of paper worldwide. In 15-20 years, that’s going to double. Paper consumption is actually growing in spite of everyone talking about the paperless office. It’s very important that we shift. The forests are the lungs of the world. I’ve always believed if you breathe, you’re an environmentalist.”
He believes that everyone should do what they can to reduce their environmental footprints, and wood-free paper is a great way to make that accessible to the masses.
“Some people are so busy with just trying to put food on the table, they don’t have time to worry about environmental needs. There are a lot of people in Hollywood who don’t have to worry about putting food on the table. They can take a moment and fight for ecological things that they care about. Again, it’s a luxury to be able to do that sometimes,” he said.
“In this case, we’re talking about making paper that’s the same price as recycled paper, but the content is 80 percent non-wood. So for people who are interested in it, it’s not like we’re asking them to pay more. Ultimately, our plan within three to five years is to have the first non-wood pulp and paper mill in North America up in Winnipeg, [Manitoba]. The source of that is mostly wheat straw which is in abundance after the farmers have already used it for food and also for the health of the soil. There’s a vast amount that’s left over and available. We could have five mills up there. And it’s going to happen.”
Check out the video below to hear Woody talk about his paper product.