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Fun Ways to Upcycle Paper

By Larraine Roulston :

To amuse children, we have been upcycling paper since the invention of newspapers, magazines and calendars. Traditional ways for youngsters to utilize paper include making paper airplanes, decorative chains, fans, hats and snowflakes. Children also delight in cutting out and coloring “paper people” holding hands. This craft is shaped by folding the paper back and forth like a fan and cutting out the image, ensuring that both sides, where they have outstretched arms, are not cut at either side of the folds. Empty egg cartons and toilet roll cylinders, if they are sitting in the blue box, can also stimulate a child’s imagination. Papier mâché characters and piñatas are particularly forgiving by allowing children to make many errors which can be easily corrected by continuing to layer and smooth the sides until satisfied with the final masterpiece.

Recently I visited a rural library in Warkworth, Ontario. The librarian had a vase on the counter that held a small bouquet of exquisitely crafted roses constructed from newsprint. It was a simple black and white classic image.

The link below describes how to make potholders, coasters and place mats by using tightly coiled newspaper. Note how junk mail, outdated magazines and calendars can be arranged into interesting colored patterns.

Origami is the meticulous art of folding paper — a very rewarding way of upcycling. These folds have proven to add considerable strength to their 3-dimensional objects. Many of their patterns are replicas of what exists in nature.

For seasonal art, the stiffer texture of old greeting cards can be utilized to form lovely Christmas tree ornaments or little gift boxes. Easter baskets can be woven from sturdy calendar paper.

Fun ways to upcycle paper need not be restricted to art. Whether paper is flat, crushed, folded, shredded or rolled, there are practical uses for it. When it comes to gardening, you can start seedlings in little paper-made pots. This will save money by avoiding the purchase of plastic containers. The small plants can be transplanted easily into the soil, allowing the paper bottom to decompose. Sheets of newspaper can be spread on your lawn to discourage the growth of weeds. Lasagna gardening is another way of mounding soil for a raised garden bed: layer newsprint, followed by kitchen scraps to provide nitrogen; then add another layer of paper for more carbon. Keep repeating and spraying with water as you build to the desired height.

When crushed, paper can be placed inside wet shoes. Not only does it absorb water, therefore allowing them to dry quicker, but also it eliminates any mold or mildew. If shoes are just a bit too tight, simply crumple and dampen some newsprint which will expand as it dries, thus hopefully stretching the tight area enough to be more comfortable. Placing some dry, crushed newsprint inside a suitcase, backpack, sports bag or briefcase will help draw out any musty odors.

Paper, folded flat, can be used to line a pet cage or serve as padding under a tablecloth. A newspaper’s colored comics make an ideal gift wrap. Shredded newsprint makes ideal bedding for a worm bin.

Tightly coiled newspaper can be used as fire logs.

Upcycling paper can be useful in everyday situations, save  money, and — above all — is a wonderful tool for creativity.

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Larraine writes children’s books on composting and pollinating at www.castlecompost.com

About Larraine Roulston

A mother of 4 with 6 wonderful grandchildren, Larraine has been active in the environmental movement since the early l970s. When the first blue boxes for recycling were launched in her region, she began writing a local weekly newspaper column to promote the 3Rs. Since that time, she has been a freelance writer for several publications, including BioCycle magazine. As a composting advocate, Larraine authors children's adventure stories that combine composting facts with literature. Currently she is working on the 6th book of her Pee Wee at Castle Compost series, which can be viewed at www.castlecompost.com. As well, Larraine and her husband Pete have built a straw bale home and live in Ontario.

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