Introduction: Biodegradable Newspaper Pots

Picture of Biodegradable Newspaper Pots

I was going to include the Origami Newspaper Pots with my previous Instructable, Recycled Seedling Pots, as I'm using recycled newspaper to make them. The instructions are a bit more complicated and I realized they deserved their own Instructable.

A little tricky at first, but once you see where it's all going, it gets much easier and you can produce a pot in a matter of minutes. My students are making these for the marigolds and vegetables we will be starting soon for our garden.

These pots, like the toilet paper pots, are biodegradable and can be planted directly in the ground when your seedling is ready. For more information on getting seeds going, check out my other Instructable Pre-Sprouting Seeds.

Step 1: Folds 1-4

Picture of Folds 1-4

Using a full sheet of newspaper, fold it in half width wise and then again lengthwise (1 & 2). You may need to trim an inch or so off to make everything even. Unfold length wise.

From the fold line, fold each corner in towards the crease line, kind of like you would when making a paper airplane (3).

Take the bottom of the paper and fold it up to the bottom of your airplane folds (4).

Step 2: Fold 5-6

Picture of Fold 5-6

Fold the paper again, it should look kind of like the brim of a hat now.

Step 3: Fold 7 & 8

Picture of Fold 7 & 8

Flip the paper over and bring each side (one at a time) to the crease line in the center of the paper and fold.

Step 4: Making the Pocket

Picture of Making the Pocket

Bring the bottom of the paper up to the new fold line and fold it down (pics 1 & 2). Fold again (pic 3). Now you have a little pocket, and you want to unfold the last fold so that you can slide the open end into the pocket and secure the sides of the pot (pic 4 & 5)

Step 5: More Folds

Picture of More Folds

Take the pointy tip of the paper and fold it down towards each corner, one at a time. This is going to make a new crease line that will help us in the next step.

Step 6: Ta Da!

Picture of Ta Da!

Stick your hand inside the opening and the bottom of your pot should form. The crease lines we made in the last step help the bottom cave in. Pinch around the sides of the pot to make it sturdier. Filled pots will sit flat/level on surfaces. Before you add water, put the pots on something that you don't mind getting muddy.

Fill with soil, seeds, and a little water.

Step 7: Video!

After several failed attempts at making a clear and short video, I finally gave up. One of my students was nice enough to let me stand over his shoulder while he made a pot for demonstration.

If you enjoyed this Instructable, please consider voting for it in the Urban Farming Contest. Anything I'm lucky enough to win will go directly to my classroom and students :) Thanks!


ebralston01 (author)2017-02-13

Very nice instructions! The images mixed with the word instructions made it really clear!

impied (author)2016-04-29

PERFECT use for all that newsprint coupon spam mail I get!

ltorres17 (author)2016-04-23

tip: use an ruler or something similar to mark the folds

SteveA35 (author)2016-04-20

Couple of tips; if you have a recycling center fairly close, they will normally receive unsold newspapers which are sold to others but we have no problem getting stacks free which we use in gardening.

Also, I don't think anyone is still using carbon black for printing but some organic ink.

TomS114 made it! (author)2016-04-03

Thank you. This is awesome. 1 down - 20 more to go...if I can find someone who still gets the paper.

prickly vegan (author)TomS1142016-04-14

LOL! I have the same problem. No newspapers, no paper bags.... I usually only have the free local arts papers, but keep my eye out for any papers being thrown out. If you work in an office, there is always salvageable paper to be had. I bet this would work with paperboard from cereal boxes and such too, even if you have to use a staple or two... ;)

Not_Tasha (author)TomS1142016-04-04

It'll work with pretty much any kind of paper, doesn't have to be newspaper. Paper grocery bags that are cut apart also work great.

Catley (author)Not_Tasha2016-04-11

True, and using grocery bags would remove any concern about the newsprint. I wonder, though, if the brown paper would biodegrade as easily as newsprint. If not, it probably couldn't be planted along with the seedlings.

Not_Tasha (author)TomS1142016-04-11

Looks great!

takitty007 (author)2016-04-08

I actually used newspaper Pots this year to start my seedlings. While low cost and actually quite sturdy, the problem that I had with them was drainage. There was no drainage at the bottom and this caused mold. I up-potted the plants and/or planted them outside once sprouted and they are doing great, but I imagine the mold could be a concern.

prickly vegan (author)takitty0072016-04-14

As long as you don't overwater them, the paper should act in a similar way to terracotta pots, with moisture evaporating from the pot surface. If you need more drainage, you could raise them up on a bed of small stones or gravel (like the stuff for fish tanks) to get air flowing around the bottom of the pot and for the excess water to escape. I imagine stabbing some holes into the bottom of the pot, or snipping the corners would also help too.

Catley (author)takitty0072016-04-11

You could snip off a tiny corner or two on the bottom to create drainage. I did that to the pots in which I planted some hollyhock seeds, because they want to form long tap roots and may want to get out of the pot before it decomposes. Just an experiment. I have never grown hollyhocks this way before.

I found information somewhere to the effect that when sowing your seeds, you should not use any fertilizer for a while, as it only invites mold, and the seeds themselves contain enough nourishment for the seedlings to get started.

prickly vegan (author)2016-04-14

This is great! I was just thinking yesterday that I would need to go out and buy paper cups for seedlings, as I couldn't think of any way to use my trash. Now I know! Thanks so much for this. The pictures are clear, and assuming I am not slow today, I should have a slew of pots made up for tomorrow! Great idea!

Not_Tasha (author)2016-04-13

I just updated the Instructable and added a video! Thanks all!

duncan_a (author)2016-04-13

As several people seem to have made these without difficulty, I'm assuming the fault must lay with me...

Doesn't there need to be a cut or a tear to go from 3 to 4? - there's a fold along one side edge, so you can't separate the 'top and bottom' layers when you "Take the bottom of the paper and fold it up to the bottom of your airplane folds" in photo 4.

Photo 5 seems to be a repeat of photo 4 and I can't work out what "You may need to trim an inch or so off to make everything even" is supposed to mean - equal width and height, what?

I've got 48 sunflower and 86 marigold seedlings waiting for me to make 'stage-2 homes' for them...

lwolkovich (author)2016-03-27

Any way you can post a video demo?

lekoepfler (author)lwolkovich2016-04-12

a video would be awesome, I am very challenged in these matters. Also, depending on which paper you read, what are the dimensions you aare looking at?

Not_Tasha (author)lwolkovich2016-04-04

I've been working on a video component. I need to figure out a way to shoot that looks less confusing.

macbutnot (author)Not_Tasha2016-04-11

Use a sheet of paper with a different colour on each side. You could glue two different colours together or take a minute and colour one side of a white piece of paper with a crayon or coloured pencil. This should make it a lot easier for people to tell which way what gets folded!

Catley (author)2016-04-11

I am glad to see this great ible, and since I have used these folded newspaper pots already, some here might be interested on how they turned out.

I made about 32 of them; they just fit into a large carton whose sides I had cut down so they were an inch or two lower than the newspaper pots. Then I lined the whole carton "tray" with a large garbage bag to water-proof it, taping loose pieces at the corners to make it neat, and filled the pots with fluffy coconut fiber (coir) to give the seedlings plenty of soft stuff to sink their roots into. (Later, I divided the pots and put them into two rectangular baking pans to make it easier to move them around as the windows in the house that got the sun changed with the time of day, but someone with a room that gets more sun might not need to do that.

I planted heirloom Brandywine tomatoes, cucumbers, and a few flowers--all in seed form. All are doing well, and I have several little cucumber plants outside in the garden (in So. Cal.) already. I plan to set the rest out sometime this week, if I am not too busy. I water from the bottom, by pouring water directly into the bottom of the "tray," and not onto the "pots." It spreads around and the pots take up just as much as they need. After 1/2 hour or so, I pour off what is left.

The pots last several weeks, probably long enough for the plants to be ready to go into the garden, depending on where you live. But I did transplant the tomatoes rather early (when their secondary leaves had become big) into some new newspaper pots and filled them with an organic potting mix so as to give them more nutrients, as the coir is said to contain little to none. What a messy job THAT was!

These great little pots are free, of course, and another nice thing about them is that when the time comes to move your plants into the garden or large outdoor pots, you can simply plant the whole pot. It will soon break down and will not harm the plants at all.

TeresaM7 (author)2016-04-11

And here I've just been using cardboard egg cartons. Now I don't have to wait until I run through a dozen eggs to have little pots. Simple origami. I'm such a goober! ;)

ILykMakin (author)2016-04-11

Creative but I'm not so sure I want to eat food saturated with the chemicals in newsprint. Nevermind the ink alone: I know what goes into turning pulp into newsprint.

Scary and not something you want to be ingesting

PJSolarz (author)2016-04-11

This instructable screams out for a video, I really like the idea.

Not_Tasha (author)PJSolarz2016-04-11

Video is in progress :) Thanks!

RobertT93 made it! (author)2016-04-10

Perfect! Just what I needed for this season!

Not_Tasha (author)RobertT932016-04-11


ChiquitaB (author)2016-04-10

yep i'll be doing this. thank you.

Not_Tasha (author)ChiquitaB2016-04-11

Let me know how it goes! I'm always trying to revise for ease :)

Evelyn348 (author)2016-04-10

zzz Instructions were great. Made one and will try it. Thanks

Not_Tasha (author)Evelyn3482016-04-11


Dawsie (author)2016-04-10

hi :-) I love the idea behind this I was never very good at origami and one day found a wooden seedling pot helper and bought it they are round but with my athletic hands I find it easy to use :-)

I don't buy the paper but my local newsagent lets me have any old newspapers once they are out of date as they are only being put in the trash.

I saw somewhere in the comments below that some one else like me does not buy the paper so why not check with your newsagent and see if they have any old out of date newspapers that they might be willing to give you. In most cases this will only happen in small remote area towns as the newspaper people pick up the old papers for recycling in the cities. But in the remote areas it's not worth the companies time to collect the old ones due to cost of transportation.

As for the shine magazines I have used them in my composting without a problem as my composting bins are laid out for 2-3 years before being used so the paper once put through a shredder bracke down nicely as the paper has a special clay surface to create the shine that you see on the magazines :-)

There is another source for newsprint and that's the free local paper that you can get weekly in the city here in the outback its delivered to the local business for them to hand out every week, my Dad gets his when we go to the lunch after we have been to Dr's once a fortnight and there is enough for my needs once he is finished with it :-)

OneBirdieMa (author)2016-04-10

For larrwill et al, newspaper inks have been soy-based for a long time. They'll compost just fine. The dyes are likely no problem and in any case they are in such a tiny percentage that it is of no account. For my comment, this is a great instructable -- and I'm someone who does origami and gets driven crazy by bad instructions. Also, the pot can be sized up (or down) and can even be used to put a plant in a ceramic or other non-porous container for decorative purposes. // I would like to add that I've got the pics (first one is attached) of the instructions for using the boxes that a dozen suet cakes come in to make containers that are great for starting potatoes... Because they are cardboard (the containers, not the potatoes!) they can handle quite substantial growth. Guess I'll have to hop to it! And a suggestion: for tiny seeds, use styrofoam egg cartons and pot-up or transplant when there are two or four leaves more than the seed-leaves . . . . poke a hole (small!) in the bottom of each egg-space to ensure drainage... guess I should do pics and instructable for this too. (NB since there's no acid involved there's no danger from the cyanide or other chemicals in the styrofoam used this way.)

larrwill (author)2016-04-10

This is a great idea but I have to wonder what chemicals are in the ink and paper. For vegetables what chemicals will leach from the paper and ink into the vegetable as it grows?

HareBall (author)larrwill2016-04-10

As someone else said above, don't use shiny ads. But from what I have learned over the years is that newspaper inks are soy based and perfectly fine for composting and gardening in general

need coffee (author)2016-04-10

Use the black and white paper only no shiny ads. You can use the news paper in your compost or to start lasagna gardening. It is earth friendly and biodegradable.

TomS114 (author)2016-04-03

Figured out my mistake. I unfolded my whole sheet in the beginning. I didn't keep it folded in half width wise

TomS114 (author)2016-04-03

I'm sorry, you lost me on step 2, folds 5-6. "Fold the paper again". Where? Over/Under? How much of a fold?

fairdinkumdunny (author)2016-03-25

Nice idea, What size newspaper? Tabloid or broadsheet/

We've been using the local town paper that is delivered to our school. I'm thinking any size will work though.

About This Instructable




Bio: I am a teacher outside of Boston and I love making cool stuff! Any prizes I'm lucky enough to win will go directly to ... More »
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