How we make stuff

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Can we do things differently

We can’t turn old paper into new paper forever, as paper can only be recycled a few times. But can we rethink how we use natural resources? Can waste become useful materials? Can we avoid using harmful chemicals?

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Closing the loop

Can we learn from nature and use waste as a resource?

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Wombat paper

Can we find other local, renewable sources of fibres to make paper?

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Inspiration from wasps

Did you know that nature thought about paper first?

Awesome Facts

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  • Paper called ‘papyrus’ was invented by the Egyptians over 6,000 thousand years ago.
  • Until the middle of the 19th century, paper was made from old cotton and linen clothes, reusing the plant fibres contained in the clothes.
  • We need an area of forest about the size of five football pitches to produce one tonne of paper.
  • We need 10 litres of water to produce one sheet of A4 paper.
  • Nearly 4 billion trees worldwide are used to make paper every year, representing about one third of all the trees cut down. The rest is used for fuel and timber.
  • We cut down about 27,000 trees a day just to make toilet paper. Yet only a quarter of the world’s population uses it!
  • Around 43% of all paper used around the world is recovered.
  • Recycling 1 tonne of paper saves 17 trees, enough water to fill about 200 baths and enough energy to power a home for 6 months.
  • Some paper makers are using leftovers from farming crops such as wheat, oat and barley to make paper.
  • In 1870, the Scott brothers in Philadelphia patented the first toilet paper roll.
  • Each person in the UK uses on average 110 rolls of toilet paper a year.
  • Toilet paper producers in Japan use recycled fibres with ‘washi’, a natural additive made from rice, hemp, bamboo and wheat.
  • A leading American manufacturer produces rolls of toilet paper without inner cardboard tubes, saving huge amounts of resources, water and energy.
  • Sustainable forestry means that we care for the forest as a whole, from worms to spotted owls, from loggers to hikers.
  • The oldest living organism on earth is a bristlecone pine tree, which grows in the USA. It is 4,700 years old and was growing when the Egyptians built the pyramids.


Download fun and original activities to encourage 7 to 12 year old children to develop their understanding of a 'closed loop' economy and to stimulate discussion and debate.

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Based on the original book ‘How We Make Stuff’ by Christiane Dorion, Templar Publishing, 2012.
Website text by Christiane Dorion - Design by Harriet Pellereau.

© 2012 Ellen MacArthur Foundation - Illustration © Beverley Young - Text © Christiane Dorion