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While it is completely plausible that everyone in the United States has access to a recycling station that will take paper and cardboard, that isn’t to say we shouldn’t use them for fun projects at home. Reusing and upcycling material is much more energy-efficient than recycling it, and there are creative ways — even business opportunities — for doing so.
The world has been “increasingly paperless” for several decades now, yet we still seem to be producing a lot. Paper waste accounts for a quarter of the landfill. Offices in the US still go through some 12 trillion sheets a year. Packaging and the mail-order economy seems to be only upping the amount we use. And, despite altruistic efforts to recycle, 93 percent of that paper still comes from trees.
While reusing paper doesn’t decrease the amount we use – we’ll have to do the all-important “reduce” step of the mantra for that – it does keep more of our paper products out of the landfill. And, it can be a lot of fun.
For many of us, making a fire these days usually constitutes a trip to the supermarket, where we buy a bagged, chemically-laced and processed log to burn. Well, while not all of us have access to fallen trees and such to make firewood, even city dwellers have access to lots and lots of paper. Making paper logs keeps the chemicals and packaging out of our firewood, and it makes good use of the spent paper. Check out this article on how to make them at home. It’s easy.
Though the concept seems simple, the end result can be something simply striking. Using old cardboard boxes, or even stiff paper like poster board, we can cut out letters to hang on the wall. These could take the form of a child’s name over their bed or “coffee” written over the breakfast nook. The letters can be covered with newspaper print, painted or even wrapped in yarn.
Truth be told, kids are just as likely to take an old box, as is, and make it into a fort, hideout or toy. But, a really fun project to inspire them to be creative is to reuse old boxes as “lumber” to build an elaborate playhouse or gigantic dollhouse. The details can be tailored to fit the child (or parent), but the building process will be an activity and learning experience in and of itself. Plus, the end result can entertain for hours, all for the cost of old packaging.
Most cardboard boxes, at least those sent through the mail, are corrugated. With a steady hand and a few simple tools, this corrugated cardboard can make snazzy relief prints, which can be used many times over to create personalized stamps on stuff. However, the reliefs themselves are worthy of having up as decor. This is a great project for the really artistic types, or those of us who try to be, and it’s an inexpensive way to be expressive.
Magazines can be particularly difficult to deal with because they are coated in protective polymers, i.e. plastics. Thus, they are not able to simply be disposed of in compost bins or lasagna garden beds (These are amazing!). However, they are great for making paper beads. Essentially, beads are as easy as rolling up strips of magazine paper. The size and shape of the strips determine the shape and size of the bead. Then, when they are added to jewelry, the coated aspect of the paper helps them last longer.
Another great use for old magazine pages, which tend to be stiffer than newspaper, is folding them into colorful gift boxes. Rather than going out to buy another gift box to add to the paper waste, origami boxes with lids are a fun way to make colorful gift wrappers that will get the job done just as well or better. No purchased gift box required, no wrapping paper, either!
Getting back to the science projects of old, making recycled paper at home can be something interesting and exciting for the kids, or a homemade, handmade notebook can be a remarkable gift for friends. Rougher versions from scrap paper make great pocket notebooks for shopping and to-do lists. There are many variations, but using old paper to make new notebooks gets double-duty from paper material.
These seven projects are just scratching the surface of what old paper can be used for. It’s important that we all need to get back into the mindset of preventing waste by repurposing what we’ve got. People used to do that to save money. Now, we need to do it to save the planet.
Lead Image Source: Flickr