Monday, October 17, 2011

Margaret Atwood's New Book is Made of Straw Paper

Photo: canopy

by Bonnie Alter, London

The book, In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination, is the story of her relationship with science fiction and brings together three unpublished lectures on this theme.

It will be printed on "Second Harvest" paper. This is paper made from the leftover straw "after the grain harvest and all other uses, such as animal bedding and maintaining soil integrity, are accounted for." It is made without any harm to forests (or food) and contains only straw leftover after the grain harvest and recycled paper fibre. The straw would otherwise be burnt, causing significant air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. The paper used in the book will be made of 36 per cent straw and 64 per cent recycled wood pulp.

Published by a Vancouver-based, Canadian company, Canopy, an environmental non-profit and forest advocacy group, they want to diversify how North American paper is made in order to reduce the stress on endangered forests. They say that "there is enough leftover straw in North America to keep up to 800 million trees standing every year and Canopy has already identified customer demand to keep four pulp mills running full time. Shifting paper production from our endangered forests to our fields would yield a new resource sector with benefits to farming communities, our economy, and forest ecosystems around the world."

Margaret Atwood is a fervent environmentalist. Years ago she invented the Long Pen. It saves authors from flying around the world for book signings by using a pen that is an internet-connected pantograph. The reader gets words with the author, a personalized note, and for a small fee, donated to charity, a copy of the video. It hasn't ended up changing the world, but was a good try.

She was keen to publish her book on Second Harvest paper because of its environmental qualities. She said:

"I joined Canopy in this trial to show that we can meet our paper needs using low-footprint straw instead of relying on endangered forests. Second Harvest Paper is the kind of practical innovation that could make paper from endangered forests ancient history. These pages were produced without any harmful impact on forests and their fragile ecosystems. Human beings need oxygen, and forests produce it; printed books require paper, but paper need not be made from virgin forests. This is an elegant solution to a pressing problem."

It's the first book to be printed on straw paper in North America but it ain't cheap. Each book in the limited run of 300, signed by the author, will cost $100. It sounds like a lot but part of that is a fundraiser to support Canopy's ongoing efforts to make their work a commercial reality within the next 2-3 years In a little straw (!) poll, 67% said they wouldn't pay that much for her book. Although one fan wrote "I would pay $100.00 for a signed first edition by Margaret Atwood if it was printed on a blackboard!"

For those unwilling to shell out that much, the main run of Atwood's book will be printed on 100% post-consumer recycled paper as part of an environmental initiative developed with Canopy ten years ago.

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