Fresh Press Agri-Fiber Papermaking Lab

Fresh Press is an agri-fiber and agri-fiber waste paper-making lab at the University of Illinois that explores how a collaboration of farmers, designers, and academics can revitalize a slowly dying manufacturing industry in the Midwest. Tree-fiber paper is ubiquitous in every discipline, however its negative environmental and social impacts are distanced from its users. Paper is the 4th largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions globally and takes up 25% of our municipal landfills. Our forests store 50% of the world’s terrestrial carbon, so in age of global warming, mitigating carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is paramount. It is for these reasons we started Fresh Press.

Agricultural fiber paper materials embrace a vision of regional vitality and local knowledge that can act as a catalyst for Midwestern job creation. Agri-fiber material is a celebration of regional people, culture, and wildlife. It is an economy that helps keep our air and water clean and maintains our forests and works to preserve natural ecosystems.

We aim to offset significantly the impact of greenhouse gas emissions in 2 ways:

  1. Provide local farmers an incentive to reduce carbon emissions
  2. Lessening emissions from the transport of wood-pulp paper from forest to pulping mill to paper distributor

Title: Fresh Press Agri-Fiber Papermaking Lab
Client: Fresh Press Agri-Fiber Papermaking Lab
Design Firm: Eric Benson
Design Team: Steve Kostell, Brian Wiley
Category: Professional

This project reduces waste by actually using agricultural waste to make paper. As opposed to cutting down trees or invading the food supply for fiber, we rely on nature’s cycle to to make our paper. In doing so, we work with our farmer to experiment with different crop rotations to improve his soil and utilize indigenous grasses and flowers to landscape (which then can later be used for paper production and to attract pollinators). Our paper recipes can be patented and licensed to larger manufacturers to scale up the impact.

One of the key components of our project is our advocacy. We facilitate paper-making workshops in our lab with campus and community members to create awareness about sustainable paper and land stewardship. We also are active in conferences directed towards artists and designers where we tell our story and process. Currently, we work with botanists & chemical engineers on our campus and an entomologist at Purdue University to ensure our paper “walks the walk” in terms of it sustainability.

One of the key motivators behind this project is its systemic focus on environmental, social, and economic sustainability. The Midwest has been hammered economically as more and more manufacturing jobs have moved overseas, leaving empty plants in Detroit, Cleveland, Galesburg, and the like. Fresh Press hopes to bring back sustainable manufacturing jobs to the region through harvesting its #1 industry (agriculture) to drive a greener paper-making industry through not only growing crops for food but for fiber.

Similar to our “people” component of our project, we hope to change attitudes and behaviors by inviting the public and strategic collaborators to our lab and farm pavilion to see our process and product. On our farm, we have collaborated with mechanical engineers, crop scientists, and architects to develop a master plan for the land and a wash & pack pavilion which we share with the farmer to prepare our fibers for production. There we collect rainwater and will be off-grid solar by July 2013. Seeing this definitely inspires.

This project is not the typical graphic design project. It is however, we feel, a good fit for your competition as we are attempting to re-design an entire industry. The paper and printing industries are large industries with systemic environmental and social problems. As both my partner Steve Kostel and myself use paper in our teaching and professional practice, we recognize the need for its manufacture to be better. Furthermore, the printing industry is facing a serious battle for survival when faced with the glitz and glamour of an iPad app or Kindle ebook. For paper to be sustainable going forward we believe that its tactile qualities and story/branding must change. It must be seen as a more emotionally sustainable product whose manufacture is based on environmentally sensitive methods from agricultural waste from regional farmers.

Fresh Press agri-fiber and agri-fiber waste paper lab that is based on a regional and seasonal model that is similar to the model of a microbrewery. We use what is indigenous to the area in terms of prairie grasses and other native species (when dried), and take the farmers’ waste after harvest. This includes corn stover, tomato vines, rye, soybean stalks, etc. As we slowly reduce the carbon footprint of paper through utilizing “waste” for manufacture, we are also focused on reducing our water use. Paper-making is a water intensive process at both a small and large scale, so as we harvest our own rainwater and in July 2013 will have a UV filter to make that rainwater usable not just for cooking fibers, but also for beating and pulling sheets. We are currently also building furniture that will collect the water from the sheet-pulling to filter and reuse in attempt to make a closed-loop system that can be scaled up to larger manufacturing.

In regards to the promotional materials featured in this submission, we printed on our agri-fiber waste paper through standard ink-jet printers to experiment with its office applications, and chose organic cotton t-shirts from Anvil. The inks used on the shirts were from Matsui International (water-based 301 Eco Series) and from Union Inks (PVC-free and our low to zero VOC content). They were screen-printed by a regional Midwestern vendor (Brian Wiley).


Posted in 2013 Winners.

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