For my first essay of the year, I argued that stone was a medium that was basically obsolete, specifically when talking about inscriptions. No one uses stone to pass along messages anymore, and while the method of inscribing messages into stone is still used today, it has become a more obscure medium compared to others we use regularly. People would much rather pass along messages using print or screen than inscribing them into stone. Up until recently, I thought that stone inscriptions were stuck in the stone age.
Then I came across a relatively new technology that made me think twice about writing off stone as an obsolete form of transmitting messages. Going back as early as 2012, stone paper is a relatively new concept that only a two or three companies have started producing (FiberStone). This stone paper is created with leftover limestone that is collected from construction quarries. It is 80% calcium carbonate and 20% High Density Polyethylene (HDPE). The calcium carbonate is ground up into chalk, and the High Density Polyethylene is used to bind the chalk together, making a more durable writing surface than standard paper made from trees. Its main selling points include being recyclable, waterproof, and tear resistant (FiberStone). Aside from the recycling aspect, stone paper aims to be everything your standard piece of paper isn’t.
Unfortunately, there are some downsides to this supposed eco-friendly miracle product. Because of the HDPE, the paper is said to photodegrade in 14-18 months if it has consistent exposure to sunlight (Palladino). Not only does that mean that the “paper” has a rather short life span compared to its leafy counterpart, it also means that there’s left over HDPE after the paper photodegrades, which leaves leftover plastic residue in the environment. Just like other plastics, HDPE may not degrade fully if it’s buried too far in the ground, making its “eco-friendly” component questionable (Palladino).
While I do find it interesting that stone appears to be making a comeback (though in a different way), I’m still skeptical if this medium could replace the paper we’re accustomed to today. The thought that my printed documents could disintegrate in a year and a half doesn’t thrill me, and I’m not sure its tear-proof and water-proof surface is enough for me to drop my old paper for this new creation. Not to mention my beloved print books. It doesn’t make sense for something that has a permanent presence (like a book) to be made out of a substance that has a short lifespan if left in a room with too much sunlight. With eBooks becoming increasingly popular, this may not be as big of an issue. But to those who appreciate print books or maybe can only afford books in print (considering eReaders aren’t cheap), this could become somewhat of an issue. I appreciate stone paper’s ability to disintegrate if left out because it shows a shift towards a paper product that is fully biodegradable, however, there are just too many environments that paper could be left out and accidentally disintegrate for me to fully invest my trust in it.
Now, perhaps there’s room for both paper and stone paper to be used and adored. Perhaps traditional paper could be used for more important documents that require a longer lifespan such as books and bank statements whereas stone paper could be used to transmit hard copies of documents that have a short lifespan, such as memos and newsletters. Stone paper shouldn’t be written off as completely useless just yet, however I think it’ll take a while and some trial and error before we see it being used to the best of its abilities.
For now, I think we’ll be saddled with traditional paper as the go-to medium regardless of which we prefer. The fact that stone paper is a relatively new concept that not many people have discovered yet, coupled with its substantial downfalls, makes it difficult to imagine how it could replace paper as we know it currently. While its durable structure and eco-friendly label are inviting and revolutionary in an age where the environment is a growing concern, it isn’t clear what the impacts of the HDPE could have in the environment if they don’t degrade like they’re supposed to or if there is a substantial amount left over in the environment after the paper disintegrates. Stone as a communication technology may not be stuck in the stone age, but it is not any better off considering its downfalls as a paper substitute.
FiberStone. “What is FiberStone Natural Stone Paper?” http://www.getfiberstone.com/what-is-fiberstone/. Accessed 4 January 2016.
Palladino, Valentina. “This Paper Is Made From Stone, But It Isn’t Exactly Eco-Friendly.” Wired, 26 February 2013, https://www.wired.com/2013/02/stone-paper-notebook/. Accessed 4 January 2016.