Thursday, February 10, 2011

Sweet! Okay, well, maybe not.

The other day, I obtained a Staples Sustainable Earth notebook, filled with bagasse paper. If you've not heard of it before, this is paper made with byproducts from sugarcane processing. We all know that emphasis on conservation and use of renewable resources has increased over the last several years. While I don't think I'm in the forefront of the environmentally aware, I am certainly happy to consider products that are alternatives to those more traditional and more environmentally impacting.

My first reaction in feeling the paper was, "Wow, this is weird!" It has a texture and feel quite unlike any other paper I've ever used. Although its performance is not similar, the feel and sound of it (the word "crinkly" comes to mind) reminds me of the old onionskin papers that were much in use when I was young.

The paper has an almost brittle feel to it that is rather unique.

I am not terribly impressed with its performance with fountain pens. Keep in mind, it's simply one notebook with bagasse paper; I wouldn't generalize from one specific instance and conclude that bagasse paper is never FP friendly.

That being said, though...

For as hard a finish as it feels like it has, the paper is actually pretty absorbent. This leads to a fair bit of feathering with a fountain pen, especially some of my wetter writers and broader nibs. The paper is also quite thin, not dissimilar to tissue paper in thickness (though not in feel), so there is a lot of show through as well. This is not a paper that one could write on both sides of easily and legibly with a fountain pen.
So, while I can't say it's not ready for prime time, I can say the notebook seems optimized for more mainstream use - in other words, the ballpoint pen users of the world would probably be perfectly content.

Using this notebook reminds me a bit of an experiment a friend and I conducted a few months ago. We are both fiber artists, and we gathered up samples of every "weird" fiber we could find, and spent an afternoon spinning the different fibers into yarn. This included a variety of unusual things - bamboo, crab, recycled plastic bottle fiber, corn, and milk byproducts, all of which are now being marketed as "renewable resource" - type fibers for fabrics.

And almost all of them were - well, just plain nasty to work with. The recycled plastic bottle fiber actually squeaked as I worked with it, and felt almost oily. It made for a fairly short afternoon, although we had a lot of product to work with, since neither one of us really cared for most of the raw fiber nor for the completed yarn. And I don't think it was the oddness that was the issue; the "hand" was actually unpleasant. The only one I thought tolerable was corn-based - mind you, this isn't corn silk, it's some byproduct from producing corn syrup that's liquefied and then treated to become fiber. Most of them, in fact, were byproducts of other processes which then went through a fair amount of processing again; I always have to wonder whether the idea is better than the reality in things such as these, where so much processing is involved to get a usable product. Ready-made yarns of some of these fibers are massively expensive by comparison with more conventional yarns (wool, cotton, etc). Our afternoon with the fibers and our spinning wheels made me wonder how viable a replacement some of these things actually are.

I'm not willing to give up on bagasse paper based on this one experience, though, so I think I'll do a little hunting around and see if I can come up with a more premium level bagasse paper to do a comparison. Stay tuned...and let me know if you have suggestions! Thanks!

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