Plastic and Wood Pulp: The Monkeywrencher’s Dream? (Ecodefense)

The following is part of a series of posts converting to html the monkeywrenching tactics in Ecodefense: A Field Guide to Monkeywrenching (3rd edition). See also the PDF of the book.


Remember that scene from the film The Graduate, in which the corporate executive tells Dustin Hoffman where the future lies? “I have just one word for you. Plastics.” Well, that may also be the word for those seeking new ways to deter the timber industry and their lackeys in the Forest Service.

An article in the October 1987 issue of The Barker, a woodworkers’ journal published in Vancouver, BC, describes the serious problem of contamination of pulpwood by small particles of plastic that find their way into the wood chips destined for paper-making. We have been hearing rumors for years that there is an insidious method for sabotaging the pulp-making process. Finally we have some facts.

It seems that most plastic gets into wood chips inadvertently, through worker carelessness. Items such as plastic bags and wrappers, nylon rope, cups, eating utensils, plastic bottles, pens, and even hard hats have fallen onto conveyors and into vats. In the course of manufacturing, the larger pieces of wood are screened out for “redigestion,” which means that these plastic items keep getting recycled until they are small enough to pass through screens and enter the pulp.

These particles of plastic are insidious because they do their damage after the final product — the paper — has left the mill. Plastic specks in the paper cause problems primarily because the plastic melts when heated. Plastic has clogged paper-coating machines, leaving lines on expensive, coated paper. Paper-makers have also found “windows” in paper, caused where plastic has melted and stuck to rollers during manufacturing. Plastic particles in computer paper have melted and gummed up computer equipment. The problems caused by plastic particles in paper are so serious that whole batches of paper have been rejected by the purchaser when contamination has been discovered. In some cases, paper-makers have paid for damages to purchasers of paper who did not find plastic particles until it was too late to prevent damage to products or equipment.

How much plastic does it take to cause problems? I quote from the article:

It takes only ten pinhead size specks per bale of pulp to ruin the whole shipment and one foot of polypropylene rope will produce approximately one million specks. The particles … are almost impossible to remove from the pulping process.

This information has applications for monkeywrenchers. As more and more old growth falls to the chain saw, increasing numbers of trees cut on National Forests, and elsewhere, will be small trees destined for wood chips. Of course, unless someone actually works in a mill, or has access to the trucks that haul the chips to a pulp mill (these distinctive-looking trucks are a common sight in some woodland areas), it probably won’t be easy to contaminate the wood after it has been reduced to chips. But this leaves the charming possibility of “contaminating” the trees before they are cut and reduced to chips — “contaminating” them in such a way that they will be undesirable as pulp, or at least undesirable for high-grade paper pulp (some pulp is also made into cardboard boxes, particle board, and the like, and plastic particles may not ruin these products). We don’t know of anyone yet who has field experience using “plastic spikes,” but it seems that it should be fairly simple.

Since polypropylene rope was singled out for notice in the article, perhaps this is as good a plastic “contaminant” as any. Polypropylene rope would also have the advantage of disintegrating rather rapidly — anyone who has used it must know how easily the ends fray.

Holes could be drilled (using a bit and brace) in trees in an area destined for pulpwood cutting. Since small trees are usually destined for pulp-generally trees less than 8” in diameter — the holes won’t have to be as deep as those for traditional spiking. Two or three inches beyond the bark might be sufficient. The hole needs to be slightly larger than your rope diameter. Take a small segment of polypropylene rope and tamp it all the way into the hole. Then fill the remainder of the hole with a caulking material, and camouflage as in any spiking operation. As in any spiking, if the trees can be “inoculated” a few years before they’re scheduled to be cut, all the better, since nature will have time to cover up the work before it’s time to notify the Freddies (or whomever) that the trees have been subjected to preventive medicine.

Activists in British Columbia are also using Styrofoam cups, foam ear plugs, and similar materials to “soft spike” trees slated for pulping. An advantage in this kind of “spiking,” is that no one will whine about the danger presented to millworkers of flying shrapnel from Styrofoam cups or bits of rope.

— Harry Orchard

Non-Destructive Stopping of Logging

Some monkeywrenchers have tried saving trees from being cut by marking them with paint as “leave trees.” This is accomplished by marking a tree with Forest Service orange at four and a half feet and at ground level on two sides. There are now traceable isotopes added to FS leave tree paint, so look-alike orange paint may not be as effective as it once was. If you find a friendly in the FS willing to part with some FS orange, remember that in applying it you will probably get some of it (and the tracer) in your hair, clothes, etc. and this could be evidence against you.

Often a tree will be unmarked by covering the “cut blue” paint with any dark spray paint. This could be an easier way to save a tree marked for cutting. Tracer paint isn’t needed for this.

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