Is the Paper in Your Books Violating the Lacey Act?
The amended U.S. Lacey Act, which prohibits trade within the United States of products made from plants that are harvested in contrary to international law or the law of their countries of origin, has already impacted the wood industry, from the investigation of Gibson Guitars to a recently reported seizure of Peruvian hardwood. Both of these cases involved solid wood products. But what about paper?
Since 2008, it has been illegal to import, export, transport, sell, receive or purchase such plant products—including pulp and paper—in the United States. All actors in the supply chain, including importers, publishers and retailers can be liable under Lacey. Penalties can include forfeiture of goods and fines of up to $500,000 and jail time.
Paper poses the challenge of linking an illegally harvested tree in a faraway forest to a piece of paper purchased in the United States—after all the mixing and bleaching. Companies in the Forest Legality Alliance and others asked whether or not it is even possible to find Lacey violations in paper products.
Working with others, the World Resources Institute (WRI) decided to check it out.
We sent samples from 32 imported paper products to an independent fiber analysis laboratory. Samples we had tested came from stationery, paper bags, cardboard boxes, toilet paper, facial tissue paper, wrapping paper, and books—including pages, glossy cover sleeves and cardboard from hardback covers. All products were purchased from stores and outlets in the United States.
With fiber analysis, scientists use high-powered microscopes to look at plant fibers and vessels in a snippet of paper to identify what types of trees were used to make it. Vessels are structures that transport nutrients and water in plants, and they have distinct anatomical features that allow for identification of its genus and, in some cases, species.
What we found is telling.