Many programs have been done with recycling. Usually, they involve things like making crafts from empty 2-liter bottles and milk jugs. However, there are some pretty amazing things that can be done with paper recycling also! If your library is anything like my library, you have a bin of construction paper scraps somewhere that are really too small to do much of anything with; yet you keep them because you just can’t make yourself throw away that paper. Instead of throwing them away or having them permanently take up residence in your supplies closet, how about turning them into really cool new paper ornaments, decorations, or stationery?
Begin with your favorite books about recycling… there are many out there. And Denise Fleming uses a similar technique to this to illustrate many of her books; the titles Where Once There Was a Wood, In the Tall Tall Grass, and In The Small Small Pond would work particularly well for introducing this activity. Where Once There Was a Wood is especially good for discussions about the importance of recycling, minimizing waste, and loss of natural areas.
For this project, you will need the following:
- a blender
- a variety of paper scraps- construction paper works very well, as do other fiber-rich papers like newsprint
- several large bins or buckets
- a screen or mesh of some sort – nylon pantyhose stretched over a coat hanger frame works well, or you can use pre-made paper-making screens. I use window screen inserts purchased cheaply from WalMart.
- a smaller bin, one that your screen will sit on top of without falling in
- cookie cutters or other open-bottom forms
- a plastic spatula
- sponges and towels
- a drinking straw
- decorative items such as colored threads, sequins, seeds, flower petals, grasses
- a space to dry your creations
Start by tearing your paper scraps up into tiny pieces (your large bin is for this!) Tear up a lot of paper, then tear up some more. Tear up paper until you have about a 2-gallon bucket’s worth of paper scraps torn into quarter-sized pieces or smaller. For a single color of paper, use a single color of scraps. For multi-colored paper, use a variety of scraps. If you want to create several single-color recycled papers, do this with each color you wish to recycle, and put each color in its own bin or container.
When you are satisfied with the colors of scraps you have to work with, set up the blender in an area covered by a plastic tablecloth or newspapers. Add paper scraps to the blender until it is about 2/3 full. Add about 1 cup of warm water, and put on the lid. Puree the paper/water mixture until it is mush about the consistency of watery oatmeal. Add paper or water as needed to get the texture right. If you want to work with multiple colors of paper at the same time, dump this mixture into a bin or bucket, rinse the blender, and start again with a new batch in a different color. Repeat until you have all the colors you wish to use.
Spoon paper pulp onto your screen either free-hand or in your form. When all your colors are on the screen in the desired shape, use the back of the spoon to press out excess water, then remove the cookie cutter (if you are using one) and set it aside. Next, take a dampened sponge and gently press on the mush design, pressing excess water out through the screen. Squeeze out the sponge if necessary to prevent the design from sticking to the sponge and remove excess water. Press until you have removed as much water as possible from your design.
Spread a towel out on your work surface; somewhere your design can dry for at least a couple of hours. Move the screen from the top of the bin and lay it on the towel. Using another clean towel, press out any additional water you can without having the design stick to the towel. If you are making ornaments to hang, use a straw to poke a hole in the top of the ornament. You can add decorations or embellishments to your design now, pressing seeds, threads, sequins, flower petals, or other thin decorative items into the design. Allow your creation to dry for at least 2 – 3 hours, checking occasionally to be sure it is drying flat. If your design tries to curl, use the spatula to remove it from the screen when it is mostly but not completely dry, lay it on a towel with another towel on top, and weight it with a light item like a book (in a plastic bag to protect it from the moisture.) When it has almost completely dried, remove it from the weight and towels, and allow to dry completely on a flat surface. Add a ribbon if you are crating a hanging ornament.
Enjoy your recycled paper creation!