Earth-friendly Creating With Papercrete

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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.

If you like this Instructable please vote for it by clicking the button at the bottom of the page! :)

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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.

If you like this Instructable please vote for it by clicking the button below! :)

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    21 Discussions

    1
    gregwest77
    gregwest77

    1 year ago

    Those are really nice work. Have you ever heard of Flying Concrete ? I've been in contact with this man a few times. His work is wonderful.
    http://www.flyingconcrete.com/

    0
    lsadwdwadw
    lsadwdwadw

    Reply 1 year ago

    Hi Greg, no I have never heard of him before now, his work looks really interesting and skillful yes, it reminds me of cob buildings, thank you for mentioning him!

    0
    gregwest77
    gregwest77

    Reply 2 months ago

    Isadwdwadw,
    I have no idea what went wrong and your reply didn't show up until now. But yes Steve does some really nice work :-)

    0
    gregwest77
    gregwest77

    Reply 1 year ago

    You're welcome. Yea Steve has been around for a long time doing this work. He and Andy Zaugg wrote a book together back in the late 70's on solar heat for your home. Excellent book.

    0
    thesnowtheriver
    thesnowtheriver

    Question 12 months ago on Step 6

    can you use this to make artificial boulders?

    0
    lsadwdwadw
    lsadwdwadw

    Reply 12 months ago

    I think so since it can be sculpted well like papier mache, though it can absorb water so it may become mossy or discoloured. Some people have successfully waterproofed papercrete so you could look into that too, or even try just painting it.

    0
    Tweetysvoice
    Tweetysvoice

    1 year ago

    Nice job! The general concept of papercrete is so appealing!
    Question: How heavy is it?

    2
    lsadwdwadw
    lsadwdwadw

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thanks! A lot of articles I read say how its much lighter than standard concrete, though I may have been doing something differently or not used quite enough paper since my results have felt reasonably heavy. I have estimated very roughly, so perhaps I need to add more paper if I want a lighter product or at least to recycle more paper into it. Some people also add sand which again can affect the weight.

    0
    Tweetysvoice
    Tweetysvoice

    Reply 1 year ago

    That makes sense. I'd tend to agree with your assumption that more paper in the mix would make it lighter. Thx!

    0
    ferg04
    ferg04

    1 year ago

    This is good, but surely there is some proportion of cement to paper pulp as in concrete construction where the amount of cement is about one seventh the amount of aggregate for optimum performance? The question is, by weight or by volume?

    0
    lsadwdwadw
    lsadwdwadw

    Reply 1 year ago

    I'm not totally sure what you are asking or wondering about, but people have used different ratios of materials in making papercrete, and sometimes added other materials too like sand or shredded recycled plastic. The maximum amount of paper pulp I seem to see that's used is about 60%, but there's a lot of room for experimentation, but paper in itself isn't that weatherproof, so for outside use that would be important to remember.

    2
    garojebac
    garojebac

    1 year ago on Step 6

    No matter on results of the voting, you are the winner, for me!

    0
    lsadwdwadw
    lsadwdwadw

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thank you I appreciate that!

    2
    BrendaR112
    BrendaR112

    1 year ago

    Wow! A way to actually use the stuff in my paper shredder. In my town, if it's shredded, it's garbage (headed for landfill), while if it's all in one piece, it goes to the recycler. Much better to do it myself; thank you!

    0
    JamesT372
    JamesT372

    1 year ago on Step 6

    Nice instructable. However, I would question the "Earth-Friendly" part.
    The only difference between "Papercrete" and regular concrete is replacing sand with paper.
    While recycling the paper is undoubtedly better for the environment than not recycling, that is nothing compared to the pollution created by manufacturing cement (https://www.carbonbrief.org/qa-why-cement-emissions-matter-for-climate-change, other references available )

    1
    mazelady
    mazelady

    Question 1 year ago on Step 6

    Is it watertight and could it be used for a bird bath or does the paper make it leak in places? Do you have to seal it?

    0
    schaude
    schaude

    Answer 1 year ago

    I really like this idea! To get it watertight I would give the linseed oil method, well known from staining wood, a try! Best would work Boiled Linseed Oil to stain the papercrete. For outdoor / indoor used wood I use rags to apply the oil. I then wait from one hour to two days, depending on material and intended use of it, and place it in a well-ventilated place and, if possible, under sunlight. It helps the linseed oil to harden like a resin. Wood becomes waterproof and more UV-resistant. I suspect that the cement and paper parts (containing wood fibres) will soak a little oil and keep it in the outer "skin" fighting water but keeping the papercrete breathable.

    0
    lsadwdwadw
    lsadwdwadw

    Answer 1 year ago

    Hi, it may be best to try and see. Untreated it is not known to be super waterproof since I think like concrete it will be slightly absorbent, but you also get concrete birdbaths that work fine and absorb just a little water. I have seen some people write about waterproofing papercrete, read the Waterproofing sub section perhaps on this page - it does show a photo of a pond that was made with papercrete and then sealed, http://www.livinginpaper.com/construction.htm Good luck, please let me know if it worked if you decide to do it.

    1
    Gadisha
    Gadisha

    1 year ago

    Very nice, I love the tutorial, very clear and you share some good tips/ideas and the result turned out very nice!
    I just have some doubts whether it can really be called earth friendly since it contains cement.