Introduction: Earth-friendly Creating With Papercrete

In this Instructable I will show you how to create the alternative building and crafting material Papercrete! It is very easy and fun to work with. It can be made with at least 60% recycled paper! Papercrete can be used to make all kinds of things, for creating bricks with for building houses with, walls, tables, benches - mostly the same things that you can usually create with standard concrete and bricks. In this Instructable I'll show you how to create a simple papercrete mixture to create a plant pots with. Papercrete is very durable and should last more or less forever even if placed outside, it can also be drilled, screwed into and sawn.

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Step 1: Ingredients & Equipment

All you will need at a minimum to make papercrete with is:

  • Paper - such as from newspapers, junkmail or even cardboard. I think that the thinner the paper or cardboard is the easier you can create the required pulp from it. For this Instructable I used one average length newspaper, and a few junk mail leaflets.
  • Cement - I used 2kg of rapid setting cement for this Instructable, but the tradition is to use standard Portland cement, this will give you a lot more time to mould and play with the papercrete before its too hard to work with. Also mortar type mixes with sand in will work too, the finished texture may just appear rougher. Adding sand will create a more stable and fireproof result.

To make the papercrete with, it would be helpful to have these items on hand:

  • Bucket or Tub - To prepare the paper pulp in
  • A blender/food processor / or alternatively a hand drill with a paint mixer attachment - To pulp the paper with. If you really cannot use either of these things, you could shred the paper as finely as possible with your hands and use it as is, but the finer the pulp, the more completely it will mix with the cement.
  • Plastic containers - To use as simple moulds for the papercrete pots

Step 2: Tear Your Paper and Add Water

To begin, simply tear your paper into pieces, the smaller the better, but I tore my paper into about 2 inch wide strips, and then would tear those strips into smaller pieces. If you have an electric paper shredder this will also work. Once all the paper is shredded, add it to a bucket or tub and add water, about 1 gallon / 3 litres, until all of the paper is covered and submerged under the water. Exact amounts are not important right now, it is easy to pour off excess water later on.

Leave the mixture for at a minimum 1 or more ideally 2/3 days, this will allow the paper to become fully moist and soft which will let it be pulped far easier. You can even leave it for longer, but at a certain point it may begin to go bad. After about a day you can shred the paper pieces even smaller by hand, as you can see in the second photo.

Step 3: Pulp the Paper

After your shredded paper is prepared, you can then pulp it. I used a blender, but you could also use any other kind of food processor, hand blender, or a popular way to do this is using a paint mixer attachment on a drill pulp the paper with. As mentioned previously, if you cannot or do not have the use of these tools, then you could shred the paper by hand as finely as you can and do that instead, but pulping the paper finely will get the best results. You can pour off the excess water as seen in the second photo, a sieve may be helpful to stop any pulp escaping when pouring off the water.

Step 4: Add the Cement Powder and Create the Papercrete Mixture

Making papercrete is similar to making dough, sometimes you need add more of a certain ingredient, like cement or water, to get the perfect consistency, and practice will help teach you this. At this point, I simply emptied the 2kg bag of cement powder onto the paper pulp and mixed it, as quickly as possible - since I used rapid setting cement. I do not have detailed photos of this mixing and moulding process since I had to work as quickly as I could before the cement started hardening too much. I would recommend using normal slower setting Portland cement for this reason unless your project allows you to work extremely quickly. I used a spoon to mix the papercrete with. If you are struggling to stir the mixture, add a little more water carefully until it is easy enough to stir - but try to keep it stiff. If it is too wet, the walls of your project may slump and sink. You ideally want a wet dough-like consistency.

I used a few different plastic containers to make my pots with, such as empty thin disposable plant pots, empty butter tubs and tupperware containers. I would recommend oiling your containers to help keep the papercrete from sticking to the moulds too much once its set. I just poured some vegetable oil into a container and then rubbed it all over the inside of each mould. I then simply pressed the papercrete into the moulds, creating a layer inside each one to create the pot shapes. I used a spoon to help press the papercrete against the walls and floor of each container. The walls can be made quite thin successfully so the thickness is up to you. If you are also creating plant pots - now is the time to add any drainage holes if desired - I simply used a pencil to drill and poke 1 to 3 holes in each planter's bottom.

It is recommended to wrap each papercrete form you make with a plastic bag or clingfilm for about 24 hours in order to allow the entire form to dry evenly. I used the clingfilm that my bag of cement had been wrapped in for packaging.

Your papercrete forms may begin to harden but it is fragile at this point, so be careful not to squeeze or apply pressure to the moulds in case you crack or break the hardening papercrete.

Step 5: Remove Papercrete Forms and Let It Dry!

After about 24 hours have passed, you can safely and carefully remove your papercrete forms from the moulds. I placed mine outside in the sun to continue drying and curing. I raised them slightly by placing the forms on pencils simply to get some more airflow around the forms. Their colour will lighten as they dry. They are now safe to use! After about 2 days or so I then began using mine for cactus planters.

Step 6: The Final Result & Further Tips and Ideas

These are the finished papercrete planters that I made, now filled with soil and cacti.

Some ideas to consider:

  • Colouring - You can experiment with adding paint, food colouring or cement colouring product to your papercrete mixtures.
  • Painting - You can easily paint your finished papercrete projects.
  • Adding junk - Some people even add more recycled junk materials like shredded plastic waste, to reuse these materials in a greener way.
  • Creating sculptures, buildings, furniture, and more - There are all kinds of things that we can make using alternative building materials such as papercrete.
  • Researching other alternative building materials - There are other alternative materials which are incredibly interesting and green, such as cob, also easily sculpted and made using clay, sand and straw. Hypertufa is another similar material. Another alternative building method is using straw bales to construct things with.

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