By Architect Marco Capellini
It’s one of the materials found everywhere in daily life: from newspapers to books, packaging to tissues, there isn’t a single sector that doesn’t make some use of paper, cardboard, or derivatives thereof. This is a material that dates back to ancient times; originally obtained by processing rags, used fabrics, and rope, it is now produced from renewable, recyclable, and recycled natural resources. About half of the fibrous component needed to produce the raw material comes from scrap paper that has reached the end of its consumption cycle.
Paper is a material with a wide range of characteristics, well-suited to constant reinterpretation: for some time now, designers and architects have started to explore this material in the fields of interior decoration and construction, which are far removed from its traditional applications in the packaging, publishing, and stationary sectors.
Paper is lightweight and can become very strong if given the proper structure (just think of Shigeru Ban’s paper projects); it can be easily transported in sheets; it can become three-dimensional by simply folding it; whether opaque or semi-transparent, it can create new textures and unusual effects through the way light hits the surface of the material. By exploiting these features through “clean”, affordable processing techniques, eye-catching, marketable design objects can be created: sustainable alternatives that are eco-friendly in their choice of raw materials and manufacturing processes, their transport and storage, and their potential for further recycling as an alternative to landfill.
Features of the recycling process
Most recovered waste paper now goes into a closed cycle, i.e., it is reabsorbed by papermakers themselves and reused to produce new paper and cardboard.
The recycling process begins by removing all foreign contaminants and then preparing the pulp, with mechanical processes in which the recycled paper is put to soak, then is dried and cut into new sheets. One should keep in mind that the recycling process causes progressive deterioration of the fibres, which can be reused five to seven times before they completely lose the consistency needed to produce more paper.
As is true for other materials, careful collection and selection has a considerably impact on the technical and economic value of recycled paper, whereas special treatments during processing (such as de-inking to make it sufficiently white) improve its appearance and performance.
There are many different applications for recycled paper and cardboard, ranging from more traditional ones like packaging, graphics (printing and photocopying paper, newspapers, stationary supplies), hygiene (paper for domestic and industrial cleaning, toilet paper, paper napkins, tissues), all the way to furnishings (bookshelves, tables, chests of drawers, chairs), decorative accessories (wastepaper baskets, lamps, clocks), arts, crafts and construction (insulation, honeycomb panels, wall finishes and trim).