Resources for Schools – Paper

Paper Facts

Globally paper accounts for approx. 25% of landfill waste and 33% of municipal waste. Deforestation is one of the main environmental problems we’re facing in these times. 42% of all global wood harvest is used to make paper.

The History of Paper

Many centuries ago – as early as 4000 years ago – people in Egypt made a kind of paper from the papyrus plant. This is where the word ‘paper’ comes from. The people of Greece and Rome learned to do this too. The Romans wrote on parchment (made from animal skin), on waxed tablets and on wood.

In China in 105 AD, the eunuch Cai Lun told his Emperor he had made paper. They had previously used bamboo and silk. The material used in this ancient paper included cotton ragshemp, various plant fibres, and old fish nets. The oldest existing paper with writing on it was found in the ruins of a watchtower in the Great Wall of China. It dates to about 150 AD. Paper-making was regarded by the Chinese as so valuable that they kept it secret as long as they could.

The Chinese invention spread to India, and then to the Middle East, and then to Italy. Paper however was hard to make and expensive. In the 19th century, new machines were made that could make paper out of wood fibres (instead of the hand-made rag paper). This was conceived in France in 1798, but the machines were invented in England. The first paper making machine was in use by 1812. It helped to make paper cheap enough for everyone to buy. Around the same time, other inventions were made, like the pencil, the fountain pen, and a printing press that used steam power. Because of these new inventions, it became easy for people to write letters and to buy books.

Paper Recycling

Recycling 1 tonne of paper saves around 682.5 gallons of oil, 26,500 litres of water and 17 trees. The energy that you can save can power 1 home for 5 months.

Ideas for paper reduction in school

  • Print on both sides of the paper and consider reducing margin space.
  • Email newsletters.
  • Use cloth towels or encourage use of only 1-2 sheets of paper towel – collect towels for composting.
  • Have a box/tray of scrap paper in each room for notes and drawings.
  • Old clean paper can be shredded as pet bedding.
  • Try to buy recycled paper products for use in your school where possible.
  • Use individual whiteboards or laminate a piece of card for each child to write on using water based markers. These can be used for practicing handwriting, or drawing and then simply wiped clean to be used again.

Activities in the classroom

  • Have a Paper Free Day at school. You could measure how much paper you save in one day.
  • Explain to the children that paper is made from wood pulp which comes from cutting down trees. Old paper can be used again to make new paper – this is called recycled paper. Check out the video on our special Paper page under the Waste/Recycling heading.
  • Get the children to look or walk around the classroom/school /preschool and try to identify items that are made from paper such as tissues, paper card, cardboard etc. Children could bring back the items they have found and use them for a circle time activity. Encourage them to think of ways to reduce their need for these. You could then get them to do the same task at home with their family.
  • Ask the children to make and decorate a paper saving box (perhaps from an large cardboard box) – somewhere they can put used paper for recycling.
  • Join a local paper recycling scheme such as
  • Talk about how paper was invented and perhaps have a go at making paper as a class.

If we use less paper, fewer trees will be used to make paper which is better for the environment. Recycling paper is a good way to reduce the number of trees cut down for making paper but reducing the amount of paper we use is an even better solution.

TOCK would love to hear about how, as part of the TOCK Team, children are helping to ‘SAVE THE EARTH’. Let him know what you have been doing individually or as a school and he can share it on the website for the rest of the TOCK team to see.