Ultimate Guide to Recycled Newspaper Crafts

This stack of newspapers is a craft project just waiting to happen. With a few supplies, you could turn this pile into beads, place mats or logs for the fire.
This stack of newspapers is a craft project just waiting to happen. With a few supplies, you could turn this pile into beads, place mats or logs for the fire.
©iStockphoto.com/Katie Molin

Paper accounts for one third of recycled materials in the United States [source: EPA]. We go through loads of it every day, tossing aside hundreds and hundreds of pages of newsprint alone.

Recycling is a great alternative to just trashing all that paper, but it's a bit boring -- beating it to a pulp and then washing it. Then there's still bleaching, strengthening, draining, flattening and drying, just to create some more paper [source: Grays Harbor]. Thankfully, if you want to recycle your newspapers yourself, you can skip that whole process and instead go for some fun, creative crafts.

Instead of taking that pile of newspapers to the recycling center, allow this article to inspire you. Create something new out of something old. Just as recycling newspapers saves the environment, you can save trees by transforming old newspapers into campfire logs. Not the outdoors type? Spend some time making jewelry of all sizes, shapes and colors. Preserve history by making effortless place mats with the kids. Or, get ready for the holidays or a party by making your own papier-mâché. All of these crafts take a bit of time, but you'll find your effort well spent. And all you need is your left over newspapers, a free afternoon and some crafting space.

Whether you're a crafter at heart, or just starting out, you can find some easy ways to be green -- while saving some green at the same time. To start, visit the next page to learn how to use newspaper for more than just a quick fire starter in your fireplace.

Recycled Newspaper Fire Logs

Who needs fresh cut logs? A cheap and environmentally friendly way to preserve trees, while making use of those old papers, is to make your own.

To make these super-saving logs, you'll want to gather:

  • A bucket of water
  • Newspapers
  • A rubber mallet
  • A dowel rod
  • Twine [source: TCEQ]

Remove the colored and glossy sections of the newspaper from the regular newsprint. Stack the prints on top of one another, alternating the folded edges with the cut edges so that the pile is level. Soak the entire pile in your water for roughly five hours, until you can see the newspaper starting to break apart.

Once you remove the newspapers from the water, spread them out on a concrete surface. Push out what water you can with your hands, and then take your rubber mallet and finish the job by hammering out the rest of the water. Flip the newspaper pile over and repeat.

Take a dowel rod and roll the newspaper as tightly as possible around the rod (a broom handle will also work here if you don't have a dowel rod handy). Once the newspapers are rolled up, squeeze and shape the newspaper into a log around the rod. Tie the twine around each end. Slide the rod out and stand the log up to finish drying.

If you're interested in creating logs that will give off different colored flames, add the following (which you can usually find at science and teacher supply stores) to the water in which you're soaking your newspapers:

  • Three parts potassium sulphate to one part potassium to create violet flames
  • Strontium chloride to create red flames
  • Calcium chloride to create blue flames
  • Magnesium sulphate to create white flames
  • Baronsalts to create yellowish-green flames
  • Copper sulphate to create green flames
  • Sodium chloride (table salt) to create yellow flames [source: Make-Stuff]

If you don't have a fireplace, don't worry -- there are plenty more crafts for your old newspapers. Read on.

Recycled Newspaper Beads

One project that's fun for both adults and kids is creating beads out of recycled newspapers. Chances are that you'll have just about everything you need around the house.

You'll need:

  • Newspapers
  • Clear drying glue
  • Varnish
  • Craft paint
  • A large old pot
  • A large pot
  • Sandpaper
  • Toothpicks [source: Sanborn]

Start by filling the large, nicer pot with water and heating it to a boil on your stovetop. While the water is heating, spend several minutes ripping several sheets of newspaper into small pieces. The smaller you make your pieces the easier it will be to create the beads in a size to your liking. Toss the newspaper pieces into a large old pot that you no longer use for cooking. The pot may be difficult to clean after this process, so an older pot is best. In fact, you may want to pick one up at a local thrift store or yard sale.

Once you've finished ripping newspaper, pour the boiling water into the pot with the pieces. Make sure it's enough water to cover the newspaper scraps, and let it sit for an hour. Once the hour is up, stir the newspaper to help it decompose and drain as much water from the paper as you can. Then add enough clear-drying glue to the mixture to hold the paper together.

Now comes the fun part. Roll a portion of the paper-glue mixture into a ball the size you'd like your beads to be, squeezing out any additional water as you go. Take a toothpick and pierce the center of each ball going through to the other side to create the hole for stringing them. Let the balls dry for a few days, rolling them two to three times a day so that the beads keep their shape [source: Sanborn].

Once all of the beads have dried, sand down any rough edges. Paint the beads with craft paint, and once the paint dries, cover the beads with a light coat of varnish to protect your art. Then start stringing!

Now that you're good at tearing newspaper, read on to learn another craft you can tear into.

Recycled Newspaper for Papier Mache

Building with papier mache (also papier-mâché or paper mache) is quite possibly one of the most creative outlets for crafting with recycled newspapers. The most expensive supply you'll need is some leftover paint -- you can make everything else (even the glue!) yourself.

For papier mache, you'll want to utilize the tearing technique you learned while creating beads. Gather your recycled newspapers and rip them into strips that are approximately 1 inch (2.54 cm) wide; if you make your strips much thinner they will be difficult to work with. Ripping in this case will help the strips cling smoothly and evenly to the form you'll use. If your edges are too neat, you will get bumps in your project. Once you've ripped enough newspaper to cover your form two to three times, it's time to make the glue.

It's fine to use ready-made, clear-drying glue in this project, but many people prefer to go the cost-effective route and make their own. To do this, you'll need to mix one cup of flour into one cup of water until it forms a thin paste. This concoction gets mixed with four cups of boiling water. Stir and simmer for three minutes. The glue will thicken as it cools [source: WGBH Educational Foundation].

There are many forms that crafters like to cover with papier mache. Many use blown-up balloons; some crinkle and wad up newspaper and masking tape to create shapes that they cover with papier mache. Regardless of which method you use, you'll dip the newspaper strip into the glue and then begin covering your form. You should overlap the pieces a bit as you go to minimize holes. You can do multiple layers at once, but it will take longer to dry -- and papier mache takes days to dry to begin with.

When your papier mache is dry to the touch, you are ready to decorate your creation. If you have used a balloon, you'll want to pop the balloon with a pin. It's perfectly acceptable for the balloon to remain inside your shape; no one will see it. The paint will double as decoration and a lacquer to help preserve your masterpiece [source: Make-Stuff].

If you're interested in preservation, this next craft may help you protect an antique.

Recycled Newspaper Place Mats

The easiest way to create place mats out of your recycled newspapers is to assemble some interesting articles and head over to your local copy shop. Simply laminate the articles together, and you've designed place mats that are simple yet remarkable. You could also get the kids involved and have them choose articles or comics to create place mats to accompany their breakfasts.

For a more intricate final product, try weaving them. For each placemat, you'll need two newspaper spreads. One of the spreads should be folded along its center crease. Turn the newspaper so that its center fold is closest to you. Cut straight lines 1 inch (2.54 cm) apart from the fold to the edge of the paper farthest from you. Leave a 1-inch (2.54 cm) border around the three sides that aren't folded so your place mat has something holding it together. Cut the remaining spread widthwise into strips that measure -- you guessed it -- 1 inch (2.54 cm).

Beginning at the bottom, weave the strips through the slotted spread (over, under, over, under), repeating this pattern until you have reached the other side of your newspaper. Weave the second strip (under, over, under, over) until you've reached the other side of your newspaper. Alternate starting to weave over and under with as many strips as necessary to fill all holes in your newspaper spread.

A variation on this place mat would be to cut curvy lines into the first newspaper spread. The strips used to weave should remain straight [source: Lee]. Once your woven placemats are finished, you can laminate them for protection or varnish them.

You now have plenty of options for making use of those old newspapers. For even more ideas and information, check out the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Links

Sources

  • Cury, James Oliver. "Barack Obama's Inaugural Menu, Recipes Included." 1/20/09. (Accessed 4/13/09)http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/blogs/2009/01/barack-obamas-i.html
  • Encyclopedia Britannica Online. "Papier-mâché." 2009. (Accessed 4/13/09) http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/442083/papier-mache
  • EPA. "Solid Waste Recycling." 2009. (Accessed 4/8/09)http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/basic-solid.htm
  • Grays Harbor County Department of Public Services. "What Happens When You Recycle Newspapers?" 2009. (Accessed 4/8/09) http://www.co.grays-harbor.wa.us/info/pub_svcs/recycle/WhenYouRecycle.htm
  • Lee, Nicole. "Woven Paper Placemats." 4/2/09. (Accessed 4/12/09) http://craftday.blogspot.com/2007/07/woven-paper-placemats.html
  • Lehman's Country Life. "Rolling My Own Newspaper Logs." 10/13/07 (Accessed 4/13/09) http://countrylife.lehmans.com/2007/10/13/rolling-my-own-newspaper-logs-help/
  • Make-Stuff. "How to Color Fireplace Flames." 2009. (Accessed 4/8/09) http://www.make-stuff.com/formulas/flames.html
  • Make-Stuff. "Make Your Own Papier Mache." 2009. (Accessed 4/13/09)http://www.make-stuff.com/kids/papier_mache.html
  • Sanborn, Pearl. "How to Make Beautiful Beads from Recycled Newspaper." A Storybook Life. 1/23/08. (Accessed 4/7/09) http://www.astorybooklife.com/how-to/paper-beads/
  • Texas Commission of Environmental Quality. "Lesson Plans for Teachers: Fireplace Logs from Newspapers." 1994. (Accessed 4/8/09) http://www.tceq.state.tx.us/assets/public/assistance/education/waste/logs.pdf
  • Ultimate Paper Mache. "About Paper Mache." 2009. (Accessed 4/13/09)http://ultimatepapermache.com/about-paper-mache
  • WGBH Educational Foundation. "Make A Papier-Mâché Dinosaur Hat." 2009. (Accessed 4/13/09)http://www.enchantedlearning.com/subjects/dinosaurs/activities/Dinohat.shtml