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Coming Soon To Eastern Washington: Tree-Free Paper Pulp


Wheat turns from green to golden in a field outside Mission, Oregon.

Wheat turns from green to golden in a field outside Mission, Oregon.

E.J. Harris/East Oregonian

A company in Eastern Washington is developing a new way to make paper pulp — without trees. The mill will instead use a source abundant to the area: straw.

Woodless pulp is a growing trend in the milling industry. Columbia Pulp is building a new facility near Dayton, Washington, in the heart of the state’s wheat and alfalfa country.

Farmers used to view wheat straw as waste. They’d burn it, which would create thousands of tons of air pollution each year. For years the state Department of Ecology has worked to reduce pollution from burning wheat straw.

John Begley, Columbia Pulp CEO, said turning that formerly wasted straw into pulp will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“From a sustainability (point of view), it has a big impact on the air quality of Eastern Washington,” Begley said. “And it is a renewable resource. Obviously you’re growing a tremendous amount of wheat straw every year in Eastern Washington.”

The process also uses less heat and fewer chemicals than wood pulp facilities. That means less of that rotten egg smell often associated with paper mills.

Begley said a final product would be similar to paper we use now — straw has been used for centuries in making paper products; think the reedy plant used to make papyrus.

Plans are in the works for straw to be used to make towels, paper tissue, and food containers that could replace styrofoam.

The facility would be the first of its kind in North America. Construction starts next month and should wrap up by late 2018.

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