Monday, July 7, 2014

First attempt at recycling paper sans blender

Whether it's printing drafts, scribbing notes, mocking patterns, whipping up prototypes, or just sketching notions I tend to use a fair amount of paper in the course of my work.  Whatever I don't wind up keeping for future reference winds up the recycle bin, but then I can't really say what happens to it after that.  I try to give preference to recycled paper when I can but it doesn't seem to have become a standard (yet!).  From that I got the first notions of recycling at least some of my own paper but being me I couldn't just follow the simple steps available on the internet and leave it at that.  I had to experiment to see what would happen and tease out the underlying fundamentals.  It's a thing I do.

Anyone who googles "recycle paper" will find all sorts of youtubes and how tos on how to turn old scraps into reusable paper.  The basic process is pretty much the same everywhere you go though:
- Tear paper into scraps
- Use a blender to turn scraps (and a fair amount of water) into pulp
- Pour pulp into a mold (generally in a vat full of water, this keeps the pulp relatively even)
- Remove pulp from mold and let it dry

There are some variations in approach to the molding and drying processes but those are the nuts and bolts and it makes a certain sense.  Paper is made up of wood fibers that have been ground up and stuck back together.  Saturating the fibers and masticating/blending them breaks those bonds and you wind up with lots of little wood fibers floating around in the water (along with ink, graphite, and probably a bit of bleach and other chemicals used to turn paper white).  These fibers are the end all, be all of paper and, to my mind, the longer the fiber, the stronger (and arguably better quality) the paper.  This is my hypothesis at least, though a comparison of japanese (very long fibers) and european (very short papers) paper seems to suggest such.

So if I were attempting to maintain as much of the fibers as possible then putting the pulp through a blender seemed somewhat counterproductive.  At the same time, I try to avoid using a power tool (like a blender) if it doesn't offer a clear advantage over trying to do the same task manually.  In this case, there's the apparent fact that a blender can reduce a few sheets worth of paper to pulp in 10 seconds or less... but I wasn't really sure that the blender offers any other benefits.

So my plan was to follow this process but instead of using a blender I would attempt to masticate (to clarify, I mean 'to tear/grind' rather than 'to chew') the paper by hand.  Tearing the paper into scraps took a surprising amount of time and for this first attempt I was just using old printer paper scraps.  Since this paper is so heavily treated and the fibers so short to begin with it's a bit of a worst case scenario, but it gives me a place to start.  The scraps of about 4 sheets worth of paper went into a vat with about 1.25 gallons of water.  I attempted to break them up further at first by just stirring the vat (which didn't work at all really).  Then I clumped whatever I could handle into a giant wad of soggy paper and ground that up between my fingers.  This worked surprisingly well but still left some fairly large scraps and wasn't something I could try multiple times.

After that the vat, with it's watery mixture of saturated free fibers and clumps of paper scraps, sat untended for 2-3 days just because I didn't have time to do anything else with it.  Once I had an hour to spare I was able to strain enough pulp out of the vat for three sheets of paper.  After giving them a day to dry they're somewhat crude as paper goes, all bendy and lumpish and uneven, but a pretty valid first attempt.  The larger scraps are still in there and several of them still have the ink or graphite they had when they went in so there's some spots as well.  It's paper though, and a very informative first attempt.

Next I'm going to try roughly the same process (I've some notions on how to refine some of the details) with newspaper and see how that works out.  The fibers seem to be longer and the paper's far less chemically treated so maybe it'll work better.  Hopefully I can find out soon.

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