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Paper packaging devours south-eastern forests in the US

Paper packaging devours south-eastern forests in the US

Paper packaging devours south-eastern forests in the US
Jeremy Hance,
February 10, 2008

The Dogwood Alliance has released a report highlighting the damage done by paper pulp mills and their corporate customers to America’s Mid-Atlantic Coastal Forests. The forests, which span from Delaware through the Carolinas to Georgia, are extremely rich in biodiversity; scientists have catalogued over two-thousand terrestrial species, including thirty-two endemic species. Probably the most famous endemic species is the Venus flytrap; this strange carnivorous plant is native to an area only 10 by 100 square miles in North Carolina. A study by WWF determined that both species richness and endemism is even higher for freshwater aquatic species.

Cypress Swamp–Merchant’s Mill Pond

The Great Dismal Swamp. Images courtesy of the Dogwood Alliance.

“The Southeastern coastal forests are incredibly diverse and unique on the North American landscape,” states Scot Quaranda, Campaign Director of Dogwood Alliance. “The forested wetlands of this region are important in stopping storm surge, filtering water, mitigating the impacts of global warming and of course providing important habitat for wildlife. It is also a place of unique cultural history, with many families living on this land for generations and incredibly distraught with all of the destruction brought upon their place by the pulp and paper industry.”

The report states that approximately 90% of the thirty-one million acre forest has been lost or degraded. The greatest loss has occurred from conversion of forest into monoculture plantation forests for paper. Beginning in the 1980s—when paper companies began to convert forests in the region—the southern forests in the US have become the world’s largest paper producer. The monoculture plantations required for such mass-production make heavy use of pesticides, fertilizers, and toxic chemicals, further imperiling the water supply and habitats of the region.

The Green Swamp

Ridgewood Paper Mill. Images courtesy of the Dogwood Alliance.

While there a number of popular parks and protected areas in the region they make up only 8% of the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Forest. The rest is owned either by individuals or corporations. Scot Quaranda said that “most of the owners are individual private land owners. They are called within the forest sector, non-industrial private landowners. A number of big corporations own land, but the trend of late has been selling that land to Timber Investment Management Organizations (TIMOs) to manage the land for them.”As to the future of public lands, Quaranda adds, “private land ownership is sacred in the Southern US, so state legislatures tend to steer clear of this issue. That said, our region is seeing unprecedented growth and so a number of state governments have looked at strategies for purchasing land for conservation.”

According to Dogwood Alliance’s report, the paper pulp industry in the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Forests produces a “wide variety of paper for products ranging from cigarette paper and newsprint to paper cups and swabs.” However, “paper packaging accounts for approximately 25% of all of the wood fiber coming from Southern forests. Across the South… companies produce a laundry list of packaging products: corrugated cardboard boxes, heavy bags for holding cement or dog food, ice cream boxes, milk and juice containers, boxes covering bottles of aspirin and perfume or hair gel, and even the paper boxes for music CDs, video game, and DVDs.” In 2004 half of all paper production in the US was made for packaging.

The report employed market research to establish a few of the larger corporations that are degrading southern forests for paper packaging, including fast food companies like KFC, McDonalds, Buffalo Wild Wings, Starbucks, and Taco Bell; other non-food producing corporations include Unilever, L’Oreal, Wal-mart, Glaxo-Smith, Schering Plough Corporation, General Mills, and Costco.

White Marsh Clearcut, outside of the Green Swamp, NC. Image courtesy of the Dogwood Alliance.

Despite the intensity of forest conversion, Scot Quaranda believes there is a way to save the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Forests. “Simple choices and creative solutions can reduce the excess and destruction while still allowing us all to enjoy the level of convenience we have come to expect. Using less packaging, using more recycled materials, and embracing sustainable sourcing choices all add up to healthy Southern forests and thriving local communities.”

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