The Paper Industry
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Early in the 20th century, the Southeast’s abundance of cheap, undeveloped land and plentiful, free water led to the establishment of massive pine tree farms to feed coastal pulp and paper mills. Chances are if you used a paper grocery bag recently, it was made in a paper mill in the South.
But in addition to making a whole lot of paper bags and providing lots of employment for residents through the decades, the paper industry also gave the area lots of air and water pollution, stressed local water supplies (it takes a lot of water to make paper from trees), and took away natural species diversity from the area by devoting so much acreage to a single crop, pine trees.
Currently the domestic paper industry is reeling from competition from cheaper Asian lumber stocks and paper mills. As a result, an interesting—and not altogether welcome—phenomenon has been the wholesale entering of Southeastern paper companies into the real estate business. Discovering they can make a whole lot more money selling or developing tree farms for residential lots than making paper bags, pulp and paper companies are helping to drive overdevelopment in the region by encouraging development on their land rather than infill development closer to urban areas. So in the long run, the demise of the paper industry in the South may not prove to be the net advantage to the environment that was anticipated.
© Jim Morekis from Moon South Carolina, 4th Edition