I cannot pinpoint the first time I came in contact with paper. There are lots of things that paper is used for. For instance, it’s used as wrapping paper on gifts. I shudder to think how many trees were levelled for the wrapping paper used on the presents for me on my first birthday. Then there is the twelve years of education where I filled reams of paper with drawings and writing.
In Year 2, I remember being taught in History the journey of Marco Polo to China from Italy and stories of trade. This was about when I learned about the Chinese invention of paper. From that point I knew that paper came from trees or recycled from paper thrown away.
I never knew how paper was actually made and I assumed that it must be a complicated process. In Year 7, the weekly class reward was to join in on a special art class of papermaking. Week after week, my friends would come back with pretty coloured paper from their papermaking sessions. I never once got chosen. Frustrating to say the least. All I wanted to know was how the paper was made, I didn’t care about the final product.
Making paper is the same regardless of the scale of production. A dilute suspension of fibres is produced and is pressed through a screen to create a mat of randomly interwoven fibres is created. The water is removed from the mat by pressing and drying to make paper.
When it comes to making paper from trees, a chemical pulping process is employed to break down the chemical structure of lignin and dissolve it in the solution to create a pulp. Lignin holds plant cells together but once dissolved, plant fibres are freed and a pulp is formed. This pulp can be bleached to create white paper that is used in printing, writing and painting. Chemical pulping often employs an alkaline solution to break down the lignin. The most common chemical pulping process used today in papermaking is the Kraft Process though there are instances where an acidic process known as the sulphite process is used instead.