Papercrete (also called fibrous cement or padobe) is a versatile building material made of recycled paper fibers, dirt or sand, and cement. It can be used in much the same way as adobe: formed into bricks, then used as mortar and stucco to finish the wall.
Can walls are a way of making non-structural walls in earthships or other ecologically-friendly buildings. Aluminum or steel cans (or sometimes glass bottles) are stacked on their sides like bricks, with concrete or mortar holding them together.
I decided to use both methods to make a small fire pit for the back yard. It's crumbled a bit since I think the fire got too hot and burned out some of the paper and making it weaker, but these construction methods would work well for any structure that isn't on fire regularly and doesn't need to fit building codes. Since this structure didn't work too well as a fire pit, I plan on using it as a planter in my garden come springtime.
Right now, there are only a few city building codes in the US that allow for the use of papercrete, but if you live in unincorporated land or are building something like a dog house, then go for it!
Step 1: Drink a Lot of Soda, or Eat a Lot of Soup
You will need a lot of cans, either steel or aluminum. Steel cans will make a slightly stronger, yet heavier wall.
You will also need dirt or sand, some cement, and a bunch of shredded paper. I got shredded paper from my home and from offices, but if you have a way of pulping or shredding paper yourself, you can use any kind of paper. I've heard that glossy magazines and ads work well, since they contain clay.
For tools, I used a five-gallon bucket, a shovel, the broken handle from a snow shovel, and my hands. For best results, you should have a power drill and a paint or plaster mixing attachment to pulp the paper, but I found that simply mixing everything together worked well (until it caught fire, that is).
You might want some gloves for working with cement, since it is quite alkaline.
Step 2: Mix Stuff in a Bucket
Depending on the type of paper and dirt you use, you will need to change the proportion of the ingredients. The sandy clay in my backyard worked well for an adobe-like mixture, but in the end I had to throw out other recipes and experiment until it came out solid.
First, fill the bucket about half full of dry, shredded paper. You can also add dryer lint, or other fibrous material like straw.
Add water until it's saturated, then mix with about four shovels full of dirt, or until the mixture comes back up to the halfway point again.
Add about one shovel full of cement, or about three soup cans.
Add enough water to make it the consistency of wet concrete and stir together until uniform.
Step 3: Masonry
No, not the secret society type, I mean brick-laying. Stack the cans like bricks to make a wall, filling in the spaces between with papercrete. I first tried using a trowel, but found that my hands worked best, especially if I used gloves to protect my skin from the abrasive and corrosive mixture.
If you plan on plastering over both sides of the wall like I did, be sure to alternate which side you put the pull tab on. The pull tabs act like the chicken wire usually used for stucco, and hold the outer layers onto the wall.
That's pretty much it. Papercrete is a pretty easy to use material and can be easily formed by hand. My mixture dried within one day and cured in about a week.
I'll add some more photos soon, since right now I'm about 80 miles from the fire pit.
Participated in the
Craftsman Workshop of the Future Contest