Making Paper from Grass


Paper made out of banana tree

You use stacks of paper every day but do you know how it’s made? Paper has been made since 105 AD in China, but other materials such as papyrus (in Egypt), parchment and vellum (various grades of mammal skin) were used in other parts of the world prior to this. Find out more about the history of paper at Wikipedia.

In Sri Lanka, a fair trade company is making paper from elephant pooh! In that country, humans are encroaching on elephant habitat, cutting down trees for fire wood and shooting and killing elephants that come looking for food. This company, “Mr. Ellie Pooh” aims to create employment and encourage villagers to see the elephants as an asset rather than a threat.

Compared to using virgin wood, paper made with 100% recycled content uses 44% less energy, produces 38% less greenhouse gas emissions, 41% less particulate emissions, 50% less wastewater, 49% less solid waste and — of course — 100% less wood.

This week we are making paper from grass in six steps:

  1. Cut the grass and grind it with the mortar and pestle
  2. Add caustic soda to release the cell contents
  3. Wash and rinse to remove chemicals and cell contents
  4. Add bleach and bring to the boil
  5. Wash and rinse to remove the bleach
  6. Form the paper

Which of these steps are physical changes and which are chemical changes?