—— Paper devours almost half of the world’s wood production. Uwe D’Agnone, an entrepreneur from Düren, Germany, thought about how paper could be produced in a smarter and more ecological way. His answer grows almost everywhere.


Nine years ago, Uwe D’Agnone first asked himself how paper could be produced in a more environmentally friendly way. D’Agnone is a specialist in exactly this field, having trained as an industrial management assistant in a print shop. He later founded a company specializing in environmentally friendly promotional items such as calendars. In his search for more ecologically responsible paper, he eventually found a solution that grows on every field and in every garden: grass.

As he explains, grass fibers are a perfect fit for ecological paper production. Wood must first go through a number of processing steps to become paper, consuming large amounts of water and chemicals along the way. Grass, in contrast, gets by with just a fraction of the water and no further additives. The reason: wood consists largely of lignin, a sort of organic glue that must be removed for paper manufacturing. Grass contains hardly any lignin at all.

For the paper D’Agnone manufactures at his company, Creapaper, mown grass is initially dried, pressed into bales and then brought to Creapaper’s production facility in Düren. There the grass is cleaned, chopped and ground, and the prepared fibers are compressed into pellets, which are turned into paper in a factory. The finished product consists of up to 50 percent grass fibers, while the rest is made up of wood pulp or recycled paper.

D’Agnone doesn’t want to switch to completely using grass just yet. His goal is to use perfectly customized blends to create the best possible products for different applications such as writing paper, cardboard, shopping bags and facial tissues. D’Agnone can already supply the entire array of products right now with his current material blend. “We can basically manufacture everything with a portion of grass fibers, from toilet paper to the thickest cardboard,” he says. Various retail chains are already using fruit and vegetable trays made of grass fibers.

The road to market acceptance was a rocky one for D’Agnone. “At the beginning, the paper manufacturers told me to get lost when I asked if I could use their facilities to produce paper products made with grass,” he recalls. D’Agnone hopes that, in a few years, grass paper will have outgrown its market niche and be making a measurable contribution to fighting climate change.

The signs are all pointing in the right direction at the moment. D’Agnone is currently working with 23 paper mills and employs 51 people. In Düren, he can manufacture 25,000 tons of grass pellets annually—enough to produce more than 60,000 tons of grass paper. And his product is very much of the zeitgeist. “I’m convinced this would never have gotten off the ground if we had started ten years earlier,” D’Agnone says. In addition to the greater amount of attention now being paid to climate protection in society, the paper industry has also become more open to environmentally friendly solutions. “Today we’re no longer being ridiculed for producing paper from grass fibers.”