Letters From The Earth

Facts and hogwash

August 28, 2006

Would it be too presumptuous to ask your indulgence as I scroll through a few environmental news briefs? I believe it will help set the stage for the continuing need for change that will make us a better industry. Remember, these are "Letters from the Earth" and I have editorial latitude.

I receive dozens of environmental minutiae every month. Some I recycle, some I skim, and occasionally there will be a choice nugget that I read thoroughly. I'm sure most of you go through the same process. It's the process of developing opinions and beliefs. And it's not all bad. In my case, this digestive process has made me realize the importance of what we've inherited and the impact that all of us have as we participate and contribute to our industry.

In May of this year I received a note, addressed to "Mr. Green" with a copy of a Wall Street Journal editorial titled "Kyoto's Big Con". Did any of you see this? It took to task many of the original members of the Kyoto Accord. The United States, you remember, chose not to participate in Kyoto because its leaders believed that arbitrary emission targets are both "pointless and economically damaging." The editorial used statistics to point out that the European countries that signed the accord have seen an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. The editorial said that 13 out of the 15 original European signatories will miss their 2010 emission targets and that Denmark has increased emissions by 6.3 percent since 1990, the Kyoto base year. It pointed out that Canada (one of the greatest proponents of Kyoto and one of the loudest critics of the US position) and Greece have seen emissions rise by 23 and 24 percent respectively. The editorial continued with fact after fact, justifying the USA's reluctance to participate.

The editorial, and, I might add, my correspondent, make a forceful case for Kyoto failure and the strength and success of America's moral position and principle.
Hogwash! It is my belief that while the editorial is probably factually correct, it is wrong not to be part of the process. If we believe it is necessary to change we can't sit on the sidelines. We need to be proactive. The Washington decision to abstain from Kyoto is typical of our arrogant approach and solution to most global issues. Indeed, it is analogous to the current administration's position on global warming and drilling for oil. It reminds me of what someone said: "Suppose you were an idiot and suppose you were a member of Congress But I repeat myself." (Who do you think said that?)

In another news brief, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), an Indonesian based conservation group, released a study that criticized major lenders for not assessing the environmental impact for projects, particularly pulp and paper, that they finance. Now, this is serious stuff. And it's not a political situation like Kyoto. The study refers to financing schemes by major players (household names in the money world) that fund Greenfield projects with loans, bonds or equity issues. CIFOR found in its eight-year study that "investors loaned $40 billion over the last 10 years to financially risky and environmentally destructive pulp mill projects."

I suppose some of you will say, "What's new?" From my point of view this information, if accurate (and I have no reason to believe that it's not), disappoints me as much as our reluctance to participate in Kyoto. The money grabbers show no ethics or morality when it comes to making a buck. It serves 'em right that they took such a huge hit with the Asia pulp and paper disaster. This was the largest financial debacle in the history of the paper industry.

John Flicker, president of the National Audubon Society, wrote in a recent editorial about the losses of marsh along the Louisiana coast. He states that 1,900 square miles have been lost since 1930 and that an area the size of a football field is lost "every 38 minutes". Louisiana accounts for 40 percent of the United States' coastal marsh on the one hand, while on the other, the state has 90 percent of the losses in marshland every year. This was before Katrina destroyed another 75,000 acres.

What's the cause for this catastrophe? It is not hurricanes and storms. Flicker says it's the US Army Corps of Engineers. There was a documentary on television which supported this allegation. Our elite engineers have diked, dammed, and diverted the entire Mississippi River, making it a shipping canal to give us economic plenty. Over the last 40 or 50 years this activity resulted in the displacement of people. The Corps encouraged people to live in places less than three feet above sea level with tragic consequences. The changes that have occurred have prevented sediments from reaching marshlands, hence the loss of marshland. The sediment is now carried out to the Gulf of Mexico where it contributes to a "dead zone" which is rapidly growing larger and larger.

What's going on here? The answer, of course, is nothing more than Lester Brown's contention that "the environment operates as a subset of the economy".
We just don't get it, do we?

Now for some good news

IC Corp, a Navistar International business, has come out with a hybrid school bus which is designed to increase fuel economy by almost 40 percent. The new engine meets 2007 US emissions standards and still cuts emissions by 90 percent when compared against older models. As with all new products, it is more expensive. Time will change that, particularly as interest and volume grow. Further, I can't think of a better application for positive environmental change, visible not only to us but our children. Just think, an earthy practical application designed for schools to teach our kids about the benefits of stewardship.

Hold on, let's not become euphoric about clean school buses too quickly. Here's an item from Lester Brown that puts a pale on hybrid school buses: "Cars, not people, will claim most of the increase in world grain consumption this year. The US Department of Agriculture projects that world grain will grow by 20 million tons in 2006. Of this, 14 million tons will be used to produce fuel for cars in the US, leaving only 6 million tons to satisfy the world's growing food needs In some US corn belt states, ethanol distilleries are taking over the corn supply. In Iowa, a staggering 55 ethanol plants are operating or have been proposed. An Iowa State University economist observes that if all these plants are built, they would virtually use all the corn grown in Iowa Since almost everything we eat can be converted into fuel for automobiles, including wheat, corn, rice, soybeans, and sugarcane, the line between food and energy economics is disappearing."

The correlation that I'm trying to make to all of us involved in our industry is the need for careful consideration of what we have, and what we have to lose. A friend of mine, speaking of the earth, put it brilliantly, "If only we could get the priests and mullahs and reverends and rabbis of the world to elevate our "Mother" to holy status. She's already there, of course, but most of us have forgotten." So true, my friend; you get it. Unfortunately, those great leaders of the West, meeting in Russia at G8 in July, did not. Their solution to high oil prices is to drill for more. On the contrary, if the rest of us will use our imagination and creativity and make the economy a subset of the environment, we'll find the same holy grail, just like my friend.

Calvin Frost is chairman of Channeled Resources Group (CRG), headquartered in Chicago, the parent company of Maratech International and GMC Coating. His e-mail address is cfrost@channeledresources.com.

Industry change requires outside force

Editor's note: The following is a letter from a reader in response to Calvin Frost's most recent column.

In "Good Stewardship", Calvin Frost's column in the July/August 2006 issue of L&NW, he wrote about the difficulty in making quality paper and paperboard from recycled fiber due to the contamination from pressure sensitive adhesives. These bits of adhesive are estimated to cost the paper industry $1 billion per year in downtime and rejected product.

Mr. Frost wrote that "the Wisconsin's governor's committee is considering recommending legislation that all pressure sensitive adhesives used in Wisconsin must be benign" or recyclable. He expressed his opposition to this legislation.
As a 26-year veteran of the label industry, I have seen many changes in the materials that we use. Change is not voluntary. It is human nature to continue to manufacture the same way that we have always done it. Let's look back at a few of the major changes in our industry.

When I joined the industry, all the inks used in my employer's plant were solvent based and we bought solvents like acetate, alcohol and cellosolve by the 55-gallon drum. The methods of disposal created what we call brownfields today. Lou Werneke was a chemist in the lab of a major ink supplier whom he could not interest in producing the water based ink that he developed. It was the State of California that mandated the elimination of solvent based inks that led to the growth of water based inks. I seriously doubt that the industry would have made the conversion to water based inks then or would go back to solvents today.

Printing plates were made using perchorethylene, which we now widely accept causes cancer. Once again, it was not voluntary or visionary leaders that moved steadily to safer plate making methods. It was government mandated handling and disposal methods which opened the door to innovation. I remember the first time my boss received a bill for $1,000 for disposal of a 30-gallon drum of used "perc". Suddenly, he was ready to change to a safer method of making plates.

Water based adhesives happened again because of government mandated air pollution controls at our suppliers. I remember Fasson pushing us aggressively to convert to water based adhesives because they were capped on the amount of air pollution they could generate at their plants. Converters do not miss the days of adhesive ooze caused by the solvent based adhesives.

Our industry needs time and a firm deadline to learn to solve this $1 billion problem. Yes, it is reasonable that government should take the lead in purchasing these adhesives. The offset industry uses recycled paper because the Clinton administration set a date and a minimum recycled content that the government would buy. This got us past the chicken and egg problem of change.

We have seen the ads for the corn based films available to our industry. The sales of this are very much of a niche market because the volume is low and the price is higher. The costs would come down sharply if the volume was mainstream.
As a final word, we need to embrace "good stewardship" as the Japanese auto industry has or we will end up like the American auto industry, wondering what happened.

Karl Nurse
President, Bay Tech Label
St. Petersburg FL USA

Calvin Frost replies:

I agree with everything Karl Nurse says with only one exception. I do not oppose the action occurring in Wisconsin. My column should make this clear. In fact, I endorse it and am now participating in a task force to develop changes that are more practical, that will ultimately utilize environmentally benign adhesives (EBAs).

The state originally wanted to mandate that all pressure sensitive materials must use benign adhesives. This implied that if a company purchased or manufactured roll label PSA material in the State of Wisconsin, all adhesives would have to be EBA. Wisconsin isn't ready for this. Our industry isn't ready for this. Think of the consequences: Converters would shut down, PSA manufacturers would shut down, PSA products without EBAs destined for Wisconsin would not be permitted, and so on.

Our industry will have an enormous task to bring EBAs into commercial PSA roll label products. Testing, applications, distribution of acceptable products to the likes of Office Max, Staples and others are just a few of the issues that need to be solved. All material suppliers need to climb on board and be part of the process. Right now, this is a bit of a stumbling block because of cost.

If Wisconsin approaches this issue with "the mandate method", it will fail and, in my opinion, set us back for years. I advocate change but I want a measured approach that will succeed and be the stepping stone for others so EBA technology will become a primary technology.
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