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Virginia's Mercury Paper Rebuffs Environmentalist Claims

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Asian Pulp and Paper denies that high value rainforest has been used in its paper products.
World Wildlife Fund
Asian Pulp and Paper denies that high value rainforest has been used in its paper products.

One of the fastest growing paper companies in the nation is Mercury Paper out of Strasburg, Va. Two environmental groups are urging customers not to buy from Mercury Paper, because its raw materials come from a Chinese firm that’s cutting down protected rainforest. While some are buying that claim, Mercury Paper is fighting back.

APP taken to task by environmentalists

Asia Pulp and Paper is one of the largest companies of its kind in the world, supplying raw materials to plants in China and Indonesia, Virginia and California. Its trees come from tropical areas where the company has developed huge plantations. Groups like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund say APP has destroyed five million acres of rainforest on the island of Sumatra, but that is a claim that the company disputes.

"No high value forests will be used by APP," says Ian Lifshitz, the company’s director of sustainability. "The government will conduct studies to ensure that these lands do not contain high value materials and are considered denuded or degraded land and wasteland as well."

Nonetheless, the environmental groups' claim prompted some of APP’s customers, including Staples, Kraft, Kroger, Target, Mattel and Food Lion -- to cancel contracts. APP is fighting back, with a series of TV ads on CNN International and the company’s website.

Conflicts of interest mire audits of APP

At Mercury Paper, owned by the same people who control APP, government affairs director Philip Rundle stresses Mercury is separate from APP -- that APP is only a supplier.

Rundle says Asia Pulp and Paper got a rating of A-plus from the Global Reporting Institute, a group created by the United Nations to help firms develop guidelines for sustainable operations. GRI essentially certifies that companies have a solid plan on paper, but it does no inspections to assure they’re complying with their own promises.

Instead, it recommends that firms get a third party to do that, like SGS, another company with a website and a video. SGS promises to make business simpler and more efficient, getting products to market faster and protecting revenue.

Asked if SGS actually inspected the company’s Indonesian tree plantations, Lifshitz says: "I don’t know." Pressed further who paid SGS to audit the company's tree plantations, "Whoever commissioned the audit."

In fact, it’s APP that paid for the report.

This report is part of a three-part series on Mercury Paper and the reported destruction of rainfoest habitats stemming from their supplier. While Indonesia is more than 10,000 miles from Richmond, that hasn’t stopped Virginia’s Republican politicians from joining in the debate. In part three of our series, Sandy Hausman looks at possible reasons why the Governor and Lieutenant Governor are defending Mercury Paper.

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