On Paper Sustainability




As a graphic artist, working mainly on paper, I feel the responsibility of sensibilize people about this precious material and the waste of it in our daily life with its terrible environmental consequences.

in this section I will try to give information from different sources related to this problem and suggest some alternatives.

In the last interview with the curator Ben Gooding, I commented my position about it:

“Many years ago, working for a newspaper in Barcelona, I was given the task of illustrating an article about the negative effects and the pollution caused by the paper industry. I was shocked, not only by the destruction of woodlands, but also by how water and air are poisoned in the process. Even paper recycling uses dangerous, carcinogenic chemicals; suicide rates are high in the surrounding areas, not to mention the effects on the environment. From that point on I felt it was my duty to only use paper manufactured in a responsible way, chlorine-free and sourced from sustainable forests.

Back then, in 2002, I was studying lithography at the Conservatori de les Arts del Llibre in Barcelona, where, due to a collaborative project with artists in Japan, we had a rich supply of handmade paper made from Ganpi, Kouzo and Mitsumata plants. I was very fortunate to be able to use such wonderful paper, so carefully manufactured and with great respect for the environment. Traveling to Japan to visit the workshops of these paper masters in the Aoya valley, I observed how the entire family was involved in the manufacturing process. Grandmother sat on the veranda, removing with a small knife the bark from kouzo branches, behind her a big wood-fired boiler used for cooking the kouzo in water with natural ashes to separate the plant fibres. Inside the workshop, the paper was ‘lifted’ from a sink containing pulp using fine bamboo moulds, pressed for some days, then dried on a warm iron plate. Near the entrance was a fish tank with red carp, and I jokingly asked if they were the workshop mascots. “No, they’re not pets,” answered Hasegawa-san, “they’re here to prove that the water coming out of this workshop is absolutely clean before it enters the river.”

Ever since that first visit we have had an intimate working relationship. Whenever I go back to pick up the paper they’ve custom-made for me, I bring some works of art as a present. Then we talk about the paper and its qualities – its composition, thickness or colour, and the effects these have on my work. Finally, we toast with sake, of course, to celebrate our reunion!”

Workshop of the Hasegawa family in Yamane, Tottori Prefecture.

Washi, or Japanese handmade papers are Inscribed on the Representative List of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:


Dentokougeshi, or “Traditional Skilled Craftsman”, is an awarded given by the Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry to a craftsman who engages in the production of traditional crafts. In order for a craftsman to receive such award, has to be considered as “holding the highest technique and skill” in his specific area.
Essentially, a craftsman is considered a true master once they receive Dentokougeshi award, like Hasegawa, Nishimura and Nakahara families.



More than just a surface, the paper itself becomes an active element as the artist’s work takes shape. The process of understanding each type of paper, of discovering the potential and unique character of a non-industrial, non-standardized material has been a gradual one, made possible only in collaboration with master craftsmen in Aoya, Japan, who manufacture the paper by hand with the fibers of ganpi, mitsumata and kouzo plants.



“Tamezuki“ and “Nagashizuki” are the two methods often used to make Washi by hand; with Tamezuki being the older of the two methods. Papermaking in the ancient Heien period was described as follows: pulps such as kozo (mulberry), hemp and gampi were cut into small pieces and cooked in a mild alkaline solution. The cooked material was rinsed, cleaned and beaten to further break down the fibers. The resulting pulp was then mixed with water and scooped onto a screened frame. Prior to any water drain, the papermaker gently shook the frame or “mould” to even out the pulp distribution. The paper was formed by a single scoop in the vat. Newly formed sheets of paper were stacked on top of each other; separated by pieces of cloth to prevent them from sticking to each other during pressing. This method is basically the same as the Western method of making paper.

Shingo Nishimura shows the Tororo-aoi roots or “Neri”

Early japanese papermakers had noticed that pulp containing Ganpi fibers had a slower drainage rate. This slower drainage allowed the papermakers to repeatedly move the pulp mixture back and forth over the mould’s surface resulting in a stronger paper (with more evenly intertwined fibers). Ganpi fibers release a viscous liquid that actually changes the viscosity of the water thus slowing the drainage rate. For some time, Ganpi fibers were added to others in order to achieve this effect but since Ganpi is not cultivatable, it is difficult to obtain significant quantities. The key viscous material or “Neri” was then extracted from other more-available plants leading to the development of “Nagashizuki” style of papermaking. Nagashizuki resulted in the manufacture of strong and translucent thin paper and has become synonymous with washi. The Nagashizuki method often uses a wooden mould and deckle unit with a removable flexible screen. Long fibered pulp is mixed with natural Neri to change the viscosity of the water and suspend the fibers during sheet formation process – resulting in a slow drainage process.

Shingo Nishimura takes a sheet of paper out of the bamboo screen

The screen and the completed sheet of paper are removed from the Keta and in a smooth overhead motion from mould to the “Shitodai” or couching stand, using the guides or “Jogi” attached to the stand, to insure an accurate placement of the new sheet directly on top of the previous sheet.

The post of newly made papers is lightly weighted and allowed to drain naturally overnight. The next day, it is put into the “Asakuki” or press and gradually pressed until 30% of the moisture is removed. Traditionally a counter-weighted press was used in Japan but nowadays a hydraulic version is commonly used. The pressed papers are carefully removed one by one and brushed onto wooden boards to dry naturally outdoors or onto a steam heated metal surface for quicker drying.

Ryouko Hasegawa dries a sheet of Washi onto a heated metal surface

Humid and already dried Ganpi papers on the Hasegawa workshop



Handmade japanese papers are elaborated only with the branches of Ganpi, Kouzo or Mitsumata plants. On the contrary, 14% of global deforestation is done for cardboard packaging and other industrial paper products, equaling the destruction of almost 4.1 million hectares of forest every year… the size of the Netherlands.[1]

Kozo fiber is harvested during winter (December to February) after the leaves drop and only bare stalks remain. The stalks are cut to 1.2m lengths and placed in special barrel-shaped steamers. The steaming process or “Seiromushi” makes the removal of the bark in one continuous strip easier. This stripping is done in a single action, beginning from the stalks bottom. The stripped bark, referred to as “Kurokawa” is then hung in bunches to thoroughly dry and is stored until needed.

The dried strips of Kurokawa are soaked overnight to soften the tissues and make the removal of the outer layers easier. The soaked bark is carefully stepped upon and rubbed between the feet in running water to remove the loosened dark outer bark. The dark outer bark can be used in the making of special papers, collecting and drying it separately.

Once the dark outer layer is removed, the “Aohada” or green layer (which contains more hemicellulose than pure white layer) is carefully scraped away with a knife. The amount of removed Aohada determines the natural whiteness of the final paper. The cleaned “Shirokawa” or white bark is dried in a cool shaded area for further processing.


If the shirokawa becomes dry, it may be soaked overnight before cooking. This will re-hydrate the dry bark and help to remove any water-soluble elements (starches, tannin, proteins, etc.) as well as make it easier for the alkaline solution to penetrate the fibers. The bark is again rinsed to remove any loose bits of rubbish before cooking. The prepared bark is then cooked in an alkaline solution such as wood ash.

The cleaned strips of damp bark are now ready for beating on a wooden or stone surface. The separate strips are beaten until they become a mass of separated fibers. Today, much of the fiber-beating is done by automated ‘Nagigata’ beaters. This beating process separates the fibers without cutting or shorten it. To test if the fibers are sufficiently beaten, a small amount of fiber is placed in water and stirred. If the fibers disperse evenly with no long thick fiber bundles floating, they are ready to be mixed with   Neri to prepare the Washi pulp mixture.

Photos: Maribel Mas, 2002

Inshu Washi information:

[1] “Forests play a crucial role in determining the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, as they absorb roughly 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year. As such, deforestation is a leading cause of climate change as forests’ ability to sequester carbon decreases as they are lost. The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report states that the most cost-effective mitigation options for forestry are afforestation, sustainable forest management and reducing deforestation, with significant differences in their relative importance across regions”

THE STATE OF THE WORLD’S FORESTS 2018, is a series of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

THE STATE OF THE GLOBAL PAPER INDUSTRY is a civil society review of the social and environmental performance of the paper industry. The 2018 report’s assessment is structured according to the goals of the EPN’s Global Paper Vision, informing on trends in consumption, recycled content, social responsibility, responsible virgin fibre sourcing, greenhouse gas emissions, clean production and transparency.



“A key issue that has not been widely appreciated is the climate change impact of paper use, and therefore the opportunity that exists for paper efficiencies to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions cuts. The ‘degrowth’ and ‘transition’ movements are both highlight the cultural and behaviour shifts required for a lower-carbon future. More credible life-cycle assessments of paper products will help to highlight the emissions savings that can result from paper saving.”

“Paper use increases year on year and has quadrupled over the past 50 years… Packaging, representing half of all paper consumption globally, is by far the biggest single opportunity for reducing paper consumption. In particular the enormous volumes of corrugated boxes, fueled by rapid growth of online retail” ...” Amazon alone sold 100 million products on Prime Day, and shipped over 5 billion items through Prime last year.”

“We start from the recognition that paper has many powerful benefits to human society, through education, communication, security and hygiene. The Global Paper Vision sees a future where our global population’s use of this valuable commodity does not cause environmental or social harm, and where all people have a fair share of the resource. At present, paper production has wide-ranging negative impacts on forests and other ecosystems, water and air quality, ground water availability and the global climate, and many local communities.
Furthermore, paper consumption is highly inequitable, with extremely high and wasteful levels in some countries contrasting with vanishingly small consumption levels in others. We need to find ways for everyone to have fair access to paper resources without increasing overall demand, which would heighten the pressure on resources. To achieve this, it is necessary that people who use more than the global average reduce their consumption levels.”