Pulp fiction – a short story about paper

If I was invited to go on Mastermind, I’m sure you could guess what my specialist subject would be. Of course, it would be the collected works of Shakespeare. Sorry – couldn’t resist that – it would be paper!

As paper is definitely my specialist subject, I thought I’d write a blog explaining a bit more about how it’s made – I hope you find it interesting! Paper is the oldest and most versatile natural material in the world, and even in this digital age we all use A LOT of paper. Books, birthday cards, newspapers, magazines, leaflets, letters, cash, cheques, stamps, tissues, kitchen rolls, toilet rolls, wrapping, packaging, teabags… the list is endless.

Here’s an interesting fact: You might think that nowadays all paper is made from wood, but in fact paper bank notes are made from cotton, because it’s more hard-wearing and durable than paper. However very soon paper bank notes will be a thing of the past, as the Bank of England is planning to bring in plastic bank notes from Spring 2016. So no more worrying if you leave a tenner in your jeans pocket come wash day!

A brief history of paper

I’m sure you’ve heard of papyrus, the earliest paper made from reeds by the ancient Egyptians. Papyrus, and the word ‘paper’, come from the name of the reed they used, Cyperus papyrus. Over the centuries, people have made paper from a wide variety of fibres – reeds, rice, wood, cotton and plants. Today, paper comes mainly from two sources – wood fibres from trees and recycled paper.

How do they do that?

It’s actually quite easy to make paper. The process is pretty similar whether you fancy having a go one rainy afternoon with the kids, or whether you happen to own a paper manufacturing plant. You mix up fibres into a pulp, cook them in hot water until they become soft, lay the soupy mixture on a mesh, dry off the excess water, and voila, you’ve got paper!

Here’s another interesting fact: Recycled paper needs to have some new wood pulp in it. This is because every time paper is recycled the fibres get shorter in the pulping process – and if the fibres are too short they won’t hold together. So recycled paper will always have some new fibres mixed in.

Bye for now! Roddy

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