Forbidden Fibers

Submitted by: Joan MacKenzie 01/31/2012

Recent TwoSides News article ‘RiskFree? Paper and the Lacey Act’

January 16, 2012

By Richard Romano 

Via the new Two Sides U.S. site, an interesting story. The World Resources Institute (WRI) conducted some tests to see if it was possible for paper products purchased in the United States to inadvertently violate the Lacey Act, much like last year’s controversy over Gibson Guitar’s alleged use of prohibited Madagascar hardwood.

The Lacey Act, as most folks in the Going Greenosphere likely already know, was originally passed in 1900 (it was named for then-Representative John F. Lacey of Iowa) and was intended to curtail illegal commercial hunting by making it a crime to poach game—“wild animals and birds” (although birds are animals)—in one state and sell it in another. Over the years, the act has been amended a few times to prevent the introduction of non-native and potentially invasive animal species into new ecosystems, to apply to international trade, and, in 1981, to cover plants as well as animals. Again, the original idea was to prevent illegal logging. For us here, the more relevant amendment was in 2008, when it was expanded to include a broader range of plants and, more importantly, plant products. Or, not to put too fine a point on it, paper. Those who violate the Lacey Act—and that can include everyone in the supply chain, such as importers, publishers, and even retailers—face a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and/or fines as high as $250,000 for individuals and $500,000 for organizations.

But how difficult can it be to violate the act? Back to WRI:

We sent samples from 32 imported paper products to an independent fiber analysis laboratory. Samples we had tested came from stationery, paper bags, cardboard boxes, toilet paper, facial tissue paper, wrapping paper, and books—including pages, glossy cover sleeves, and cardboard from hardback covers. All products were purchased from stores and outlets in the United States.

They analyzed the fibers and in many cases can determine was genus, and perhaps species, of tree (or trees) were used to source the paper and, ergo, come from trees protected by the Lacey Act. And what they found was a little surprising. In one coffee table book, published and sold in the U.S. but manufactured in Indonesia, traces of ramin (genus Gonystylus) were found—trees that have been protected internationally since 2003. Other book samples turned up other protected tree genera. All in all, 3 out of the 32 samples tested indicated Lacey Act violations. (This is not the first time that imported books have contained evidence of endangered hardwood.)

What seems most telling to me is that the offending products were not printed domestically. So right there we have one way that inadvertent violations can be avoided: print stuff here.

It’s not abundantly difficult—though I suspect it’s not cheap—to test paper samples—and if the WRI can do it, any organization on the trail of Lacey violators can do it, too. There are, however, ways of doing “due diligence,” from knowing your supply chain, to using certified paper, to conducting one’s own occasional fiber analyses.

Last year, in case you missed it, Margie Dana interviewed PIA’s Gary Jones about the newest provisions of the Lacey Act and what they mean for the printing industry.