• Sara Reeves

Cheeky Guide: making recycled paper

The consumption rate of virgin paper in Australia is a staggering 230 kilograms per head. This statistic may not strike fear, but of the 4.25 million TONNES of paper distributed in Australia, 1.9 million tonnes was sent straight into landfill. That’s almost 50% of our countries paper that ends up in the trash.

While much of this is due to corporations and mass printing, we are still to be made accountable for our own consumption and waste of paper considering that one tonne of paper takes around 24 fully grown trees, where only 24% of that tree is used for the paper production. Based on these statistics, this means that 102 million trees are cut down for our paper consumption habits.

If that doesn’t sound so bad to you, consider the 90,000 litres of water needed in the production of paper to create just one tonne of virgin paper. That’s 382 BILLION litres of water, with almost have completely wasted when paper is sent straight into the garbage.

I never really thought much of paper when I was younger. It felt like one of those things that just existed for its singular purpose to then be disposed of. A few years ago I found out the consequences of this belief, and decided to make a change in the way I saw paper.

I started with basic recycling – making sure to collect all the paper I used into a pile to make sure it would be sent to recycling. While, yes, this is a better outlook on paper, I knew I could still do better in terms of understanding how I used paper, and how was best to cut down my direct consumption rate.

As someone invested in writing, I find at the strangest times I will be writing down singular lines or novel ideas that I think are incredible. Note that this usually happens when it’s very late at night, so often times they are quite garbage and I realise I’ve just wasted a piece of paper for what I thought was utter brilliance. Not wanting to throw them out for waste, I kept a stash of miscellaneous papers for years.

Last year when I lost my job due to that-which-shall-not-be-named, I found myself with more time than I could poke a stick at. Somehow, I found myself learning about the art of making recycled paper – something I thought could only be done if you had a thousand materials I could never be bothered buying. After more research into the subject, I found that making paper could be a lot easier than I anticipated.

I started by finding myself an Australian company that sold Mould and Deckle kits – the frame which is used to mould the paper sheets. Born In Paper sells these kits starting at $48 for an A5 size mould and deckle, including mixed dried flowers, raw cotton, an absorbent cloth and shredded paper that can be used in the making of your recycled sheets.

The funny thing about homemade recycled paper is that you only really need water and paper to make it.

I start my paper making process by hand shredding the paper waste I’ve collected. To make the pulp, I fill a jar ¾ full of shredded paper, topping it off with water. It’s best to do this if you’re looking for a single textured sheet since when blended, the pulp will become very uniform. An every day blender can be used for making the pulp, and only has to be whizzed for a minute or two.

I use a storage bin as the ‘vat’ for making my sheets. I fill up the bottom with the pulp, and add three times that amount of water so the pulp can float freely though the water. This is the point where things like cotton or dried flowers can be added. They give a unique look and texture to the pages, so it’s best to think about what you use your paper for before the additives. For letter writing, the flowers add a beautiful touch, but for everyday note writing, sometimes it’s better to just use the pulp by itself.

The hardest part of this whole process is using the mould and deckle. It takes a few turns to get the right amount of pulp to lay flat on the wire netting of the mould. Find flat surface you can lay a bed sheet over for the paper to dry on. The deckle needs to be placed on top of the mould. Holding both together, slide them into the ‘vat’, shake in the water to even out, and pull up and set aside for the water to drain.

Remove the deckle, place on the flat sheet, and press the mould down. Use the cloth or any other type of sponge to dry out the paper as much as possible. Done correctly, the mould will pull away from the paper easily. All that’s left from this step is to let the pages dry. If this doesn’t make sense, there are plenty of YouTube videos accessible that can show you the process!

While making your own paper doesn’t stop the harmful industry, it allows you to stop yourself from being a part of a system of waste. Plus, handmade paper is a great tool for letters and cards. Or, just keep it for yourself, no one’s going to blame you for wanting to hold on to these sheets.