A Winnipeg company is using wheat instead of wood to make paper

Paper destroys forests, unless…


His name may be Woody, but he’d prefer paper be made of wheat. (Step Forward Paper; iStock)

The video opens with his familiar face framed by a lush soft-focus shot of a Louisiana bayou. Then comes the unmistakable drawl of the man who first greeted the world as barkeep Woody Boyd on Cheers: “My friends and I are creating a new paper paradigm,” Woody Harrelson says with an earnest smile, “and we want you to be a part of it.”

It’s a promo video produced by Prairie Pulp & Paper Inc., the Winnipeg-based outfit attempting to shake up the office-supply business with an innovative new product: straw-based paper. Harrelson has been making the rounds to promote the paper in recent months, but he’s no mere pitchman-for-hire; the two-time Oscar nominee holds the title of co-founder of Prairie Pulp & Paper, and has invested in the company three times. “Woody has been instrumental in helping us raise money from investors and finding high-profile customers,” says veteran eco-entrepreneur Jeff Golfman, the company’s president and co-founder. “He’s invested.” The thing that’s so captured the enthusiasm of Harrelson, one of Hollywood’s most steadfast tree-huggers, is what has Golfman so excited about his company’s future: the new straw-based paper, branded “Step Forward,” may present a viable alternative to cutting down tracts of trees—by using leftover agricultural products that would otherwise go to waste.

Golfman started thinking about alternative paper more than 20 years ago, while pioneering Winnipeg’s blue-box recycling program. He was seeing tonnes of the stuff routed into the recycling system every day. He also saw nearby farmers burning fields of chaff after the wheat harvest each year. “I thought, ‘Why don’t we work with farmers to buy their waste product and give that to the paper mills instead?’” he recalls.

It was easier said than done. Golfman and his team spent 14 years conducting R&D before arriving at a product, manufactured in India and made primarily of wheat-straw fibre, that achieved the trifecta of high quality, high environmental integrity and affordability. Since launching in Canada in 2012, Step Forward has slowly established itself as a mainstream contender. You can buy it at such stores as Staples and Basics; a case of 5,000 sheets costs only about $10 more than going garden-variety. Business clients are getting on board, and now represent about two-thirds of the company’s revenue. For Golfman, who hopes to get enough buyers to move production to North America, Step Forward is catching on because it gives people a way to do some good for the planet—without compromising much on price or performance. “Two boxes of our paper saves one tree,” he says. “Every person who uses our paper makes a real difference.”