Easy Experiments on Recycling Paper

Test recycling paper rather than letting it accumulate in the dump.
... Andy Sotiriou/Photodisc/Getty Images

In efforts to “go green” and raise environmental awareness, recycling is a popular topic for science fair projects or exploratory experiments. Since paper comes in many forms, including newspapers, magazines, cardboard and mail, it is readily available for simple experiments. These investigations teach the value of reusing old items to create something new.

1 Why Recycle?

Cut various types of paper into scraps and put them inside a few paper bags. Hand out the bags to your experiment partners and see if they can guess where the scraps of paper came from. Ask if some paper, such as a portion of a cereal box, is heavier or more durable than other paper, such as a magazine page. Can they think of other forms of paper they use in daily life? Have everyone dump their bags of paper onto the center of a table -- point out that even small amounts of paper from each person becomes a much larger mass once it all comes together. According to Stony Brook University, the total amount of garbage accumulates into the waste stream. Ask your lab partners if they think recycling paper could decrease the immensity of the waste stream. Collect the scraps of paper to use for another recycling experiment.

2 Paper Mache

Recycle the scraps of paper from your waste stream investigation to make paper mache. Put the scraps into a bowl and mix with 1 part flour and 1 part water. Add more parts water and flour until all of the paper scraps are covered. Crumple a larger piece of paper into a shape, such as an animal, or turn over a large bowl to make a paper mache bowl. Cover your paper shape or bottom of the bowl with four layers of paper mache. Let it dry completely before you paint your paper mache animal or remove the paper from the bowl and turn it right side up.

3 New from Old

Recycle paper by taking scraps of old paper and making it into a new sheet of paper. Cut scraps out of four or five sheets of newspaper and place them in a bowl. Pour hot water over the scraps until they are all wet. Let the paper soak in the water for a few hours until it becomes a mushy pulp. Add three tablespoons of corn starch and a half cup of hot water and mix again. Prepare a sheet of aluminum foil a bit larger than the paper size you want to make and poke holes in it. Place a larger sheet of aluminum foil on a table, and put the foil with holes on top of it. Spoon your paper pulp onto the foil and let the excess water fall out of the holes and collect on the foil underneath; you can lift the top piece of foil to let the water drip out. Place your foil with your recycled paper on a third piece of aluminum foil and let it dry. Peel the recycled paper from the foil and use it for notes or cards.

4 Comparisons

Continue your investigation of recycled paper by checking out what kinds of old paper -- newspaper, magazines, cardboard or other types -- make the best recycled new paper. If you add plant fibers like grass or flowers, does it help the durability of the paper? Find out if recycled paper breaks down faster than other types of paper by digging two holes in the ground and placing one type of paper in each hole. Cover the paper and come back a month later -- which paper broke down faster?

Cara Batema is a musician, teacher and writer who specializes in early childhood, special needs and psychology. Since 2010, Batema has been an active writer in the fields of education, parenting, science and health. She holds a bachelor's degree in music therapy and creative writing.