I was a budding environmentalist from an early age and tried to be aware of the waste — and opportunities for recycling and reuse — that I saw around me.
When I reached junior high, I became increasingly aghast at the amount of paper that was being wasted. Nearly every day, each teacher would have printed a sheet of 8.5" × 11" paper for each student to take home: assignment instructions, test schedules, calendars of events, and so on. Often you'd get more than one in a day from a teacher. They were printed on various colors of paper, with varying amounts of text. Sometimes a whole sheet was devoted to a few printed lines. And I knew that the vast majority were taken home and thrown away.
In eighth grade, I hatched an idea. Rather than recycling the sheets of paper throughout the year, I started saving them in a box. By the end of the school year, I had accumulated an entire ream. Of course, every other student had received the same amount.
The last weekend before classes ended, I undertook my project. I walked to the hardware store and bought scraps of 1×1 wood for pennies from their scrap bin. I bought the minimum amount of window screen material I was allowed to purchase. I took the supplies home, nailed the wood into frames, and tacked the screen material tightly across them. I separated the paper by color, tore it into shreds and, using my mom's Osterizer blender and hot tap water, pureed the shreds into pulp. I spread the pulp onto the screens. I embedded fallen flower petals scavenged from lawns. I flipped the layers of pulp onto newspaper, covered them with more newspaper to absorb excess moisture, and added weights to flatten the sheets.
Voila. Handmade recycled paper.
They turned out far better than they had any right to, given my lack of craft ability. They were gorgeous.
On the last day of school, I took the sheets of paper and, class-by-class, gave five or six sheets to each teacher. After they marveled and thanked me, I described the project:
"I made this from paper sent home with me over the school year," I said. I paused dramatically. "I was able to make a lot of it."
I went off to high school the next year, so I never knew what came of it. But in my dreams, I hoped that the teachers would glimpse their gifts and think carefully about whether that next sheet of paper needed to be printed for every student.