If you haven’t heard of stone paper before, don’t worry — we barely had either. But the flexible, mineral-based medium is a thing, and its unique characteristics are pushing it to fast popularity. Its environmentally friendly claims, however, may need a bit of scrutiny.
Stone paper has some attractive characteristics as a writing material. At first touch, you can tell the sheets aren’t normal wood-based paper. The pages are smoother, and you have to make an effort to tear them. Ink writes just as well, or perhaps even better, although some gel inks may take a minute or two to dry completely. In many ways stone papers like Repap seem to reinvigorate paper with aspects you always wished paper had. It’s durable, oil and tear resistant, and waterproof, and since you can fold it like paper your airplane-making days may not be as numbered as you thought before.
Notepads made from the material have been showing up on school supply store’s shelves through companies like Oxford and FiberStone. The newest on the scene is from the Italian company Ogami, with two collections of Euro-designed notebooks that use stone paper manufactured by a company called Repap. These notebooks have the quality and aesthetic associated with finely made journals from companies like Moleskine, Ciak, and Cartesio.
Alaina Darr, the inventory manager at Jenni Bick Bookbinding, says event though the store has only carried Ogami notebooks for less than a year, they’ve become increasingly popular with new customers.
“Rather than the same customers coming back for more, the sales are mostly from new customers,” Darr says. “We’re not sure if it’s word of mouth or the attraction of recycled materials, or quite possibly it’s both. I will need a new pocket notebook for my purse very soon and I am going to buy one of these myself.”
The companies using stone paper claim it is a better alternative to the pulp-based standard, as it does not use trees, water, chlorine, acids, or petroleum in its creation. It is primarily made from calcium carbonate, one of the most common substances on the planet. Aside from making up part of marine organism shells, pearls, and eggshells, calcium carbonate is also a natural byproduct of water and limestone that is found in quarries. The substance is no stranger to the paper world – for the past 30 years it has been used as a filter and a coating pigment to produce whiter, brighter, glossier paper. But in making stone paper, the mineral graduates from just being a simple coating to being the heart of the product, comprising 80 percent of its composition. The calcium carbonate is ground into a fine powder and mixed together with a small amount of high-density polyethylene (HDPE).
Yes, HDPE, the synthetic plastic made from catalyzed natural gas byproducts, which raises the question of greenwashing on the part of the people behind the material.
HDPE is one of the most common plastics in the world. We use it everyday, even more often than we probably know. It’s found in packaging like milk cartons and shampoo bottles, as well as fuel tanks, hard hats, and hula hoops. It also makes up a large part of the growing oceanic plastic gyres. In stone paper, HDPE is used as a binder to keep the calcium carbonate together in flat sheets, and to give the finished product the foldable quality of real paper. According to the EPA, it’s considered a Type 2 plastic, which is widely accepted at recycling centers, but not always. This material is recyclable as a plastic as well, as long as everyone in the recycling process is knowledgeable of that, and doesn’t mistake it for common paper. So yes, it uses stone instead of trees to make paper, but it couldn’t do so without a little plastic push.
Beyond being recyclable, the stone material is said to photodegrade with 14-18 months of sunlight exposure. It’s not clear, however, what happens to the HDPE component after that process occurs. And like normal plastics, stone paper won’t degrade at all if buried below where light exposure can occur. This light-sensitive property also means that leaving your incomplete memoirs on your dashboard could prove ruinous.
The moisture-resistant characteristics of the material does lend itself to one potentially ideal use: printed books. And in fact, book publishers are slowly warming up to the idea of stone paper. At least one publishing company has already used the resilient substance for one of its publications. In 2011, a Taiwanese publisher printed Little Pig Looks for Rain, a children’s book appropriately about the extreme effects of climate change and environmental concerns.
It may be a while before you see more books using this material, but in the meantime, Ogami seems to have made stylish notebooks that emphasize stone-paper technology. They’re reminiscent of Moleskine in design, and similarly priced as well.
While many paper mills use sustainable foresting techniques, if the idea of felling trees still gives you pangs of guilt, these pads might be an alternative — if you can accept a little bit of plastic with your stone.