At Natural Products Expo East in Baltimore this fall, the 51-year-old Canadian firm Buffalo Original Inc. introduced Buffalo Natur, an innovative, environmentally-friendly line of school and office supplies made with a variety of post-consumer and post-industrial materials, including natural bamboo, corn starch and jute.

Its most intriguing product?  A pulp-free paper that looks and feels like high-quality paper and claims to require less ink for printing and no water, acid, base or bleach during production.  “It is a unique 100% tree-free stone paper; no wood fibre,” says business development VP Danny Fonfeder. “It also generates 50 percent less carbon emissions than conventional pulp paper in production, uses significantly less energy to produce and generates no effluent when manufactured (airborne or solid).”

Stone paper has been developed by Taiwan Lung Meng Tech Co. Ltd, established in 1998. After years of research and trials, the unique product was introduced to the United States and Japan in 2008, for promotional and stationary applications. Today is is patented in over 40 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, France, Chile and South Africa.

Buffalo Original distributes the paper in Canada and has used it in stationary as part of its Buffalo Natur line of office and school supplies for export. “The response received at Expo East was wonderful,” says Mr. Fonfeder. “People were more excited to hear there was a great alternative to pulp paper than those buyers at the conventional stationary shows, where price is the only real important issue to discuss.” Stone paper is not much more expensive than conventional high-quality paper, he adds.

According to Taiwan Lung Meng Tech Co. Ltd, stone paper is neither pulp nor synthetic-made paper, but a combination (80%) of mineral powder (calcium carbonate/limestone) with a smaller amount (20%) of a non-toxic High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) resin. Stone paper is water-and grease-proof. It is not biodegradable, but photodegradable.

“To be biodegradable, insects or other organisms need to be able to eat or break down the product,” says Mr. Fonfeder. “With stone paper, it is the sun’s strong and continuous UV rays that start the photo degradation process.

“The paper cracks like an eggshell and the limestone part, turns back into powder, its original form, while the remaining non-toxic resin breaks up without harming the environment”. A thin sheet of stone paper (120 gsm-240 gsm) takes about 12 months of direct sun exposure to start cracking; paper used for book covers (420gsm), takes four times longer.

However, companies like U.S.-based EcoPrint have questioned the validity of such claims. Non-renewable fossil fuels are used as a raw material to make the polyethylene (resin), and calcium carbonate comes from the mining sector, where there is usually at least some negative environmental impact.

Jeff Salisbury of U.S.-based Label Impressions Inc. argues that the most important claims they make are that FiberStone® (the stone paper brand his firm uses for water -and grease-proof food labels) saves 16,000 gallons of water per tonne, versus pulp paper and 9,000 btus of energy. “Those facts, combined with the durability, toughness and unique feel of FiberStone® paper, makes it a very special and exciting material indeed.” And for Mr. Fonfeder, stone paper’s photo-degradability offers peace of mind. “What will happen if someone doesn’t recycle but rather leaves it out?” The sun does the job. “And if the stone paper product does make it to WTE (waste-to-energy burning), it will burn clean and provide energy to power factories and such.”

Technology took 10 years to bring stone paper to market; now it may take extra time to figure out its energy consumption and carbon footprint in detail, to find the best ways to source calcium carbonate and to obtain the most sustainable resin to “glue” the limestone powder to produce the smooth and durable tree-free paper. While entrepreneurs clamour to find better production alternatives for other everyday products that contribute to so many environmental disasters, the Buffalo Original team will cover other organic fairs in 2012 to share their unique line of stationary made with stone paper, along with its chic jute bags, high-quality pencils made with recycled newspaper and rulers and pens made of bamboo.