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7 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Make With Paper

7 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Make With Paper

Sales of print books have declined in an age of ebooks. On my street, I’m 99 percent sure that the only people who still have a subscription to the again-on-the-verge-of-closing New Jersey newspaper, the Star Ledger, are the elderly couple across the street. I’ve wondered if I should still ask students to “submit their papers” when they never print them out but email them to me.

Paper might seem obsolete but, in many ways, its many uses are only being discovered. Items made from paper can be strong enough to provide shelter; a bonus is that many are made from recycled materials and can themselves be recycled after use. Here are some:

1. A Bike Helmet

Paper Pulp Helmets are not only made from recycled newspapers. They are disposable, recyclable, waterproof and highly affordable, with a price tag as potentially low as $1.50. Three students from London’s Royal College created the helmets by grinding up newspapers and blending them with water to make a pulp that is then molded into a helmet.

Barclays is in discussions to invest in the paper helmets, and the London government and a bike share program in San Francisco have shown interest in using the helmets. Look out for them — they could actually be available as early as Spring of 2014.

2. A Bicycle

What else to ride while wearing a paper bike helmet than a cardboard bike, the Alfa? Israeli engineer Izhar Gafni spent two years folding and refolding cardboard to see what would make the strongest shapes. The result is a single-speed bicycle with spokes, rims and a frame all made from cardboard. The 28-poound prototype, which can support a rider up to 485 pounds, has tires made from old car tires and pedal cranks made from discarded plastic bottles.

Gafni’s cardboard bike costs only $9 to make and, as rumor has it, might only cost $20. However, a company called Cardboard Technologies has started a crowdfunding campaign to mass produce the bikes with a much higher price tag — $135.

3. A Boat

In the late 19th century, people created boats — canoes, rowboats, racing shells — from paper. You see some examples of “cellulose-based naval architecture” in museums in the U.S. and read about the know-how and craft that goes into making a paper boat.

4. Clothes

Tyvek is used for mailing envelopes and also for disposable protective clothing. But it can also be made into clothes, from dresses to coats, which can be recycled. They’re perhaps not something to wear everyday or in all seasons (winter, for instance), but paper is potentially an eco-friendly alternative to other materials.

5. Solar Cells

MIT researchers have created solar cells that can be printed out on paper or cloth at a low cost. The printed solar cells can be folded 1,000 times and still generate power. They can also be laminated to protect them from the elements. While they only provide enough power now for a “small electric gizmo,” the researchers are working to increase their capacity. They envision people printing out solar cells cheaply and then fastening the solar cells to a wall, thereby “drastically reduc[ing] the costs of solar installations.”

6. Bricks

Researchers from Spain have figured out a way to turn the waste from paper mills into bricks. Not only does the waste not end up in a landfill, making the bricks saves resources and money as they require less time in a kiln to be fired. The paper bricks also have low thermal conductivity, meaning they would provide good insulation for a home or other building. The current paper bricks are not as strong as traditional ones, but researchers are working on ways to incorporate other waste materials — from the beer, olive or biodiesel industries — to improve them.

7. A Building

German architects Ben and Daniel Dratz have designed an entire building — a 2,000 square foot office space in Essen, Germany — from 550 bales of bound recycled paper from local grocery stores. While the building is only temporary, it has so far withstood rain and wind. The bales can be stacked as high as 100 feet safely though, as one commenter observes, which might be about as high as you want to go in building with paper.

Paper is a material with some limitations, but it certainly has many more uses than bringing us the news.

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Photo via Richard Masoner/Cyclelicious / Flickr

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8:53AM PDT on Jul 14, 2013

Jonathan Y.,

I agree, we cannot eliminate all paper reading and that the technology is going to be there in matter of months to not need any new stuff to SOLAR recharge the non-paper items we use to read now, but I do not think books and Etc. will ever truly disappear. Think about simply make all out of recycled paper and other materials.

4:22PM PDT on Jul 13, 2013

Hey, some of us still read books and have substantial personal libraries, and we're not grandparents yet.

Most schools and public workplaces still use handouts, files and sticky notes. Truly paperless work could become the norm if we all had solar hand-helds that don't depend on batteries or outlets.

9:28AM PDT on Jul 13, 2013

interesting idea. didn't know they could be water & weatherproofed that well.

8:22AM PDT on Jul 13, 2013

Chrystle A.,

"I am reminded of the house built in the Philippines out of bamboo. It is a very savvy, easily renewable material, and the house and furniture were quite beautiful."

Now, that is easily believable, and not comparable to paper bridge, when it comes to believability. Putting a side the huge difference in weight, even if 0bese people, there is the fact that Bamboo is one the strongest plant materials on Earth.

Wesley S.,

"I've seen bridges (well, on a smaller scale) made out of cardboard and supporting the weight of semis.

Read more:"

11:06PM PDT on Jul 12, 2013

A company called Way Basic makes storage cubes, bookshelves and stools all made from paper products. They are held together with self adhesives. Another company makes clear pack cardboard furniture; bookshelves, desks and tables. They owe their sturdiness to the way they are folded. Type "cardboard furniture" in your internet search box and see some of the other really interesting furniture imaginative people are making. I am reminded of the house built in the Philippines out of bamboo. It is a very savvy, easily renewable material, and the house and furniture were quite beautiful.

5:17PM PDT on Jul 12, 2013

Spirit S.,


5:16PM PDT on Jul 12, 2013

Wesley S.,

I would have to experience it to believe it.

3:59PM PDT on Jul 12, 2013

I've seen bridges (well, on a smaller scale) made out of cardboard and supporting the weight of semis.

2:44PM PDT on Jul 12, 2013

very cool, thank you

12:49PM PDT on Jul 12, 2013


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