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Some toilet paper production destroys Indonesian rainforests, endangering tigers and elephants

Monday 13 February 2012
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American consumers are unwittingly contributing to the destruction of endangered rainforests in Sumatra by purchasing certain brands of toilet paper, asserts a new report published by the environmental group WWF.

The report, Don't Flush Tiger Forests: Toilet Paper, U.S. Supermarkets, and the Destruction of Indonesia's Last Tiger Habitats, takes aim at two tissue brands that source fiber from Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), a paper products giant long criticized by environmentalists and scientists for its forestry practices on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The brands — Paseo and Livi — are among the fastest growing, in terms of sales, in the United States. Both brands are commonly marketed for hotels, restaurants, and public restrooms, according to the report.

APP has converted large tracts of Sumatran rainforest for wood-pulp plantations used to produce fiber for paper products. The forests serve as critical habitat for a range of endangered species and generate livelihood for rural communities.

"APP is rapidly expanding into the U.S. market with paper products linked to rain forest destruction, originating from areas that are the last home for critically endangered Sumatran tigers, elephants, and orangutans," states the WWF report.

WWF estimates that APP has destroyed nearly 5 million hectares of forest in Sumatra since it began operations in 1984. APP is still heavily dependent on sourcing fiber from natural forests, a consequence of "historically low investment in plantation development and a strong reliance on plantations located on peat soils and in areas with community conflict," according to the report.

APP has missed three self-imposed targets for phasing out rainforest fiber from its supply chain, raising concerns that its plan to nearly double processing capacity by 2016 could take an ever-greater toll on Sumatra's increasingly rare lowland forests.

In the United States, APP distributes and markets its products through several North America-based subsidiaries and affiliates, including Mercury Paper, Solaris Paper, Papermax, Global Paper Solutions and Eagle Ridge Paper. Criticism over APP's forestry practices, which has prompted several major retailers to stop carrying APP products, is now affecting the bottom line some of these companies.

In recent weeks, Mercury Paper has launched a campaign to try to persuade Kroger — one of its biggest customers — to again carry Paseo brand products. The campaign is supported by the Consumer Alliance for Global Prosperity (CAGP), a group that advocates on behalf of APP interests in the United States (it claims no affiliation), and has even recruited Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell to write a letter on Mercury's behalf. The letter warned that Mercury Paper's declining fortunes could affect some of the 150 jobs the company says it created when it moved its headquarters to Strasburg, Virginia.

But WWF rejected Mercury's claims that environmental concerns are undermining American jobs. Its report noted that the Department of Commerce recently ruled against APP, imposing anti-dumping and countervailing duties for "dumping" paper on the U.S. market at "artificially low prices" and "threatening U.S. jobs and U.S. industry 'with material injury by reason of less-than-fair-value imports of certain coated paper from Indonesia.'" Since the ruling, APP has stepped up its public relations in the United States, while at the same time groups like Consumer Alliance for Global Prosperity and the Coalition to Protect Virginia Jobs have emerged. These groups, which align themselves with the Tea Party movement, criticize companies that have stopped carrying APP products and campaign against WWF and Greenpeace, both of which are pressuring APP.

WWF says its concerns about APP aren't political.

“This isn’t a political issue – it’s about making US consumers aware of where their toilet paper comes from, so that they can make informed decisions about the sources of the products they buy," Linda Kramme, a WWF forest expert, told mongabay.com. "We’re not trying to put Mercury or APP out of business – we’re simply asking that they adhere to the same responsible forestry practices that pulp and paper companies the world over adhere to."

For its part, APP says it operates within the confines of Indonesian law and avoids the conversion of high conservation value forest. The paper giant adds that its products are certified by independent auditors, while its advertisements tout various conservation initiatives as a sign of its commitment to sustainability.

"Mercury Paper has demonstrated its sound environmental policies and practices to officials in the Commonwealth of Virginia over the years, clearly showcasing that Mercury’s products are manufactured from sustainable and environmentally responsible sources," an APP spokesperson told mongabay.com. "APP tissue products have achieved many independently audited, international certifications for sustainability."

"Our products' key credentials include: PEFC certified NBKP (long fiber) [and] legally verified and certified LBKP (short fiber) obtained from sustainably managed rapidly renewable plantation fiber. The certifications include non-controversial sources under PEFC guidelines, LEI, and PHPL sustainable management forest standard.

But environmental groups, including WWF, cast doubt on some of these claims. Recent reports by Indonesian groups Eyes on the Forest (a WWF partner) and Greenomics question whether APP's conservation projects really go above-and-beyond what is required under Indonesian law, while Greenpeace and the Rainforest Action Network have both found rainforest fiber in packaging materials produced by APP, according to independent testing lab results. In fact, another NGO, the Rainforest Alliance terminated its high conservation value forest assessment work for APP when it found the paper giant to be breaking its commitment to protecting key habitats. The Forest Stewardship Council, which has the most rigorous certification criteria among the major wood products standards, has even barred APP.

“The bottom line is that Mercury Paper’s products are made from APP fiber – and APP’s forestry practices are wiping out Sumatra’s forests," said WWF's Kramme. "Right now, APP’s forest management operations in Indonesia are not certified as sustainable by any credible third party. Hundreds of responsible pulp and paper companies all over the world operate without destroying natural forest. Until APP cleans up their act, tigers, elephants and orangutans will continue to be in danger due to habitat loss."

The WWF report also cites the climate impacts of APP's operations. It notes that 2006 research showed that emissions from APP's Indonesian pulp and paper mills and wood supply operations amount to 67 million to 86 million tons of carbon dioxide, or more than the emissions of 165 countries. It adds that APP's climate impact is likely to worsen.

"With so much of the easily accessible dry forests gone, much of APP’s future forest clearance is planned in areas with deep peat, which will cause the peat’s stored carbon to be further released, dramatically increasing APP’s already substantial contribution to global climate change."

Given these concerns, WWF ends its report for a call to companies and consumers in North America to avoid APP products. It says market pressure is the only way to get APP commit to meaningful reform.

"Commercial purchasing power can drive improved forestry," states the report. "Companies can avoid risks and influence responsible forestry practices in Indonesia and elsewhere by choosing responsible paper products as part of their individual purchasing decisions."

This article was originally written by Rhett A Butler and published by Mongabay; tropical rainforest conservation and environmental science news.

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