Impact Journalism Day 2016

Paper Goes Forward to the Stone Age

A Taiwanese firm makes stone paper that's high quality and eco-friendly. It even lets divers take notes underwater.

Stone paper consists of leftover mined marble, a pioneering technology that saves trees and cuts down on carbon emissions and water pollution.
Photo by Taiwan Lung Meng

In an age when environmental conservation and sustainable technology are increasingly relevant in our daily lives, the innovation to manufacture products we often take for granted often needs to start from the ground up.

French sculptor Auguste Rodin once said, “I choose a block of marble and chop off whatever I don’t need.” Had he lived until now, he would be amazed to discover how those leftover pieces of marble can be transformed to craft new possibilities.

The approach used by the Taiwan Lung Meng Technology Co. (TLM) is notable for using no-frills materials in an unconventional manner to create cutting-edge products that we use daily, such as paper.

TLM is based in the southern city of Tainan and employs 300 workers. It’s pioneered a process that takes marble waste and converts it into high quality paper. This stone paper uses a mixture of 80 percent calcium carbonate and 20 percent nontoxic resin, and is recyclable. Its manufacturing process is also eco-friendly, in that the paper doesn’t come from the trees that our planet desperately needs.

The making of stone paper involves a process of grinding leftover mined marble into a fine powder, adding calcium carbonate and a resin mixture, and bringing it to boil at around 160 degrees Celsius.

The composition doesn’t require acids, alkalis or bleaching, nor does it cause water pollution. And the only water used is for cooling the stone paper pallets. When it needs to be disposed of, the paper is put in an incinerator where it won’t produce toxic fumes and where the calcium carbonate that remains won’t damage the walls.

Hard to tear

The paper is a lightweight, soft-to-the-touch writing medium that’s hard to tear, suitable for storage and can even be used for note-taking by divers underwater.

In contrast, one ton of wood pulp paper requires the felling of 20 trees and the usage of close to 7,500 gallons of water. It also creates nearly 1,000 kilograms of carbon emissions.

TLM’s “non-wood-consuming” process, which it has developed at a cost of some $50 million, has won it many accolades and prizes, including being the first in Taiwan to be awarded “Cradle to Cradle” (C2C) certification.

In contrast to cradle to grave (C2G) materials that cannot be recycled and reused, C2C standards certify that a product is sustainable in five categories – including material safety, recovery/recycling, energy usage, water usage and social responsibility.

The company has also partnered with international entrepreneur and author Gunter Pauli, whose vision for responding to societal economic needs through locally available resources was detailed in his book “The Blue Economy.”

Due to stone paper’s durability, it’s an ideal material for posters, manuals and trail maps. The White House, Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari have all used it.
Photo by Taiwan Lung Meng

Practical advantages

Aside from the environmental advantages, stone paper has practical advantages over its traditional wood paper counterparts. For one, stone-based paper is flame-, water- and bug-resistant, making it ideal for archives.

Due to the paper’s durability to the elements, it is also an ideal material for posters, manuals and trail maps. The White House has used the paper with its signage in gift bags – a practice that has also been adopted by Mercedes-Benz and Ferrari.

It is also lighter, which translates into reduced burdens for textbook-toting schoolchildren.

“We want kids and students to carry stone paper-printed textbooks to school as it’s lightweight and eco-friendly. Most importantly, it’s extra durable and water-resistant,” says TLM company representative Alan Sun.

Beyond paper, TLM has ventured into stone-based grocery sacks. Unlike traditional grocery sacks, which take decades to decompose, TLM’s variant takes six months to a year under direct UV exposure.

TLM’s resource recovery of inorganic waste and its benefits toward improving the environment puts yet another quality, environmentally responsible product on the store shelf.

The company’s technology has already been patented in more than 40 countries and is being sold in Europe (The Netherlands, Germany and France), as well as in Canada and Australia.

The article first appeared in Taiwanese daily The China Post.