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Did you know you can reuse used paper by turning it into new paper? This three-part project will show you how.
For this project, you will need lots of scraps of paper that have already been used. Ask your family to start saving pieces of paper that they would normally throw away, like junk mail, newspaper, old notes, scraps from art projects, wrapping paper, tissue paper, or thin cardboard. Paper scraps that don't have much writing on them make the nicest paper, but you can reuse whatever you have. If you want your paper to be a certain color, collect scraps that are mostly that color.
Fibers are the hairy-looking things you see on the edges of paper when you tear it. Most paper is made from wood, which contains fibers called cellulose. All green plants (that includes trees) have cellulose inside their stems. What else is made from fibers? Take a look at your clothes - see the little fuzzy and stringy looking pieces on your shirt or pants? Those are fibers, too! Thin, smooth paper has small, narrow fibers and thicker paper with a rougher texture has much bigger fibers. That's why you can see the bigger fibers on the surface of some types of paper, like construction paper and cardboard. When you looked at the fibers of your torn paper scraps up close with a magnifying glass, what did you notice? Can you tell what's holding the fibers together? You'll find out when you make your own paper in Part 3!
You will need an 8"x10" wooden picture frame (make sure it's one that no one needs anymore since it won't be useable as a picture frame when you're done) and a piece of screen or some sturdy netting with very small holes. The piece of screen should be a little bigger than the picture frame. You will also need a stapler and staples or else some thumbtacks with flat tops, scissors, and an adult to help you.
(A note to parents about supplies: $1 stores are a great place to buy inexpensive wooden picture frames. A small piece of screen can be bought from a hardware store, or ask if they have any scrap pieces they will give you. If you don't want to purchase these items to make your own drying frame, you can buy a papermaking kit instead.)
You will use this frame as a mold to make sheets of paper in the next part of the project.
Note: If your new sheet of paper rolls up when it dries, you can have an adult help you iron it flat using the iron's lowest heat setting.
You may be wondering how those little scraps of paper stuck together again to make a whole new sheet of paper. As you learned in Part 1, paper is made of fibers that come from wood. Cellulosefibers are slightly sticky, so they help paper hold together. In fact, cellulose is used to make some kinds of glue! You "recycled" old paper by blending it up into tiny pieces. Those pieces of paper were made of cellulose fibers. The warm water you added made the cellulose sticky again and then when you pressed your new sheet of paper with the sponge, the fibers got matted down and tangled together, then they stuck to each other as they dried into a new sheet of paper.
To learn more about recycling, check out our Learn About Recycling page.