“Do You Know what Kind of Paper You are Using?”

InterviewSometimes, fighting on the ground is not enough – you have to find allies in other parts of the world.

On Thursday 16th of November I got a chance to meet Aidil Fitr, Muslim Rasyid y Hariansyah Usman. The three environmental activists from Sumatra, Indonesia have been fighting for years against the paper industries in their home regions. Right now they are touring Europe – with the help of Greenpeace and the European Environmental Paper Network (EEPN) – to raise people’s awareness and at to find in them important allies to take on the big companies which destroy the Sumatran forests and fill the world with greenhouse gases with their plantations.

But first, let me give you some background information: Indonesia is the third highest ranked country – after China and the US – on the list of countries emitting greenhouse gases from deforestation. “In the last half-century about 74 million hectares of forest in Indonesia have been cut down, burned or degraded, an area equivalent to twice the size of Germany. In this region, illegal logging and corruption in the forestry industry is brutal”, Greenpeace explains.

That is why, in Barcelona, the activists from Indonesia together with Greenpeace and EEPN have come together with the graphic arts industry and the Publisher Guild. The Catalan capital is one of the places where APP (Asian Pulp&Paper) has the highest number of clients. “A large group of printing companies and packaging have been playing cat and mouse with Greenpeace in recent years. We know which ones are customers of Asia Pulp & Paper, but they deny, minimize or hide it”, said Miguel Angel Soto, head of the Spanish Greenpeace forests department.

Learn more in the following interview I did with Aidil Fiar, member of the Wahana Bumi Hijau NGO.

Why do you fight for the forests?

Aidil Fitri: I grew up in a small village in Sumatra and I remember that when I was a child, there were trees everywhere. The village was in the middle of the forest. When the paper industry arrived everything changed. Now there are no trees left. The three regions we are from are the ones most affected by deforestation. Besides, the paper industry causes so many bad things. Indigenous people who loose their livelihoods and species disappear…

We have been travelling a lot in Sumatra and we have met so many victims of this ruthless practise. These people had a good life, now the have nothing left. They used to live of the forest, now they do not know what to eat. The paper industry is also the root cause for many social conflicts in our country. People struggle to get their land back. To me there’s no doubt: I have to do something. We cannot say no to the paper industry, but we can try to change its practises.

What do you ask the paper industry to do?

Aidil Fitri: We don’t want to bankrupt these companies; after all, paper is an important opportunity for our country. What we want from them is that they stop expanding their territory by cutting down even more old trees. They should focus on sustainable plantation instead. In short: we just want them to be respectable, good companies.

How do the companies react to your work? Have you talked to them?

Aidil Fitri: We talked to them many times. It is always the same, they make a lot of empty promises on how they will improve the sustainability – nothing ever happens. All commitments for sustainability that APRIL and APP (editor’s note: the two big companies of the paper industry in Indonesia)  have made so far have been broken.

What is your opinion on civil disobedience?

Aidil Fitri: We have been thinking about using civil disobedience strategies. In some areas in Indonesia people have organized mass demonstrations and kept companies from harvesting their trees. However, so far none of these activities have led to any substantial change. Companies don’t stop expanding even if the government tells them to do so. What we have learned is that outsiders – people like you – can sometimes achieve more change. Companies need customers. That is why buyers have a lot of power: to choose the right products and force companies to endorse sustainable practises.

Do you think that the new technologies will bring relief to the forests?

Aidil Fitri: It is clear that we have to reduce our use of paper to safe the forests. These technologies can help us to achieve that. But we will still need paper. It is not our idea to tell people to stop using paper; we just want them to use sustainable paper. That is how we hope to fight the expansion of the paper industry in our home regions.

Civil society should focus on raising people’s awareness that the choice of paper is more than just an economic issue, it’s highly linked to the destruction of our environment and the livelihood of people in forest areas. Therefore, we should urge publishing houses and other companies to use sustainable paper and do the same in our own daily life. Just ask yourself: “do you know what kind of paper you are using?” According to the European Environmental Paper Network it is hard to name brands people should not buy because brands and name change easily. It’s easier to know what to look out for. First of all, you should buy recycled paper which is totally free of chlorine – there is a difference between a chlorine free process and a chlorine free product. Blue Angel and FSC are good, sustainable brands which keep high controls of their products. Generally, the more you can reduce your paper use, the better: that’s good for the environment and your wallet.

This interview has also been published on barcelonaconsensus.org.

2 thoughts on ““Do You Know what Kind of Paper You are Using?”

  1. This post is very VERY close to home here in Tasmania. The forest industry had a stranglehold on our economy and with the economic downturn the forest industry has lost a lot of its power thanks to our high Australian dollar and the low costs of labour in our close neighbours which are coincedentally Indonesia. A forest peace deal was recently signed by memebers of the forestry and the environmental movement here in Tasmania but the forestry are only signing because of a massive forestry exit package that our Commonwealth government are dangling like a carrot in front of their noses…once the carrot has been eaten I dare say it will be gloves off for our forestry workers. 1 in 2 native Tasmanians can’t read or write thanks to their expectance and reliance on a “job in the industry” when they leave school (as early as possible). Is it any wonder that we have such a tradition of oafish self gratification and lack of concern about the environment when the industry has effectively kept the population “stupid” so that they can keep doing whatever they like here? They are not going down without a fight and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. The one shining light that has come out of all of this is that the pulp mill proposed for just around the corner has been quashed because the company that wanted to build it went bankrupt (blaming the high Aussie dollar and the environmentalists of course!)… no money to build the mill and no ready customers (thanks to Indonesia’s cheap labour and forests) has caused the industry to be relocated and I feel deeply for the Indonesians because what Tasmania has been fighting for and for the moment, have managed to protect, is what Indonesia is now having to fight for. Greedy bureaucracy and the need to appeace an uneducated job market is a recipe for corruption and a powder keg of destructive potential. Cheers for this incredibly relevant post Rahel 🙂

    • It’s important to mention that this is obviously not only an issue in Sumatra!! It’s also interesting to think that one place can learn from the other (although as you point out, it’s more complicated than that…). Thanks a lot for this enriching comment!!

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