The History of Paper

The history of paper dates back almost 2,000 years to when inventors in China first crafted cloth sheets to record their drawings and writings. Before then, people communicated through pictures and symbols etched on stone, bones, cave walls, or clay tablets.

Paper as we know it today was first made in Lei-Yang, China by Ts'ai Lun, a Chinese court official. In all likelihood, Ts'ai mixed mulberry bark, hemp and rags with water, mashed it into pulp, pressed out the liquid, and hung the thin mat to dry in the sun. During the 8th century, Muslims (from the region that is now Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq) learned the Chinese secret of papermaking when they captured a Chinese paper mill. Later, when the Muslims invaded Europe, they brought this secret with them. The first paper mill was built in Spain, and soon, paper was being made at mills all across Europe. Over the next 800 years, paper was used for printing important books, bibles, and legal documents. England began making large supplies of paper in the late 15th century and supplied the colonies with paper for many years. Finally, in 1690, the first U.S. paper mill was built in Pennsylvania.

At first, American paper mills used the Chinese method of shredding old rags and clothes into individual fibers to make paper. As the demand for paper grew, the mills changed used fiber from trees because wood was less expensive and more abundant than cloth.

Today, paper is made from trees mostly grown on working forests and from recovered paper. Recycling has always been a part of papermaking. When you recycle your used paper, paper mills will use it to make new newspapers, notebook paper, paper grocery bags, corrugated boxes, envelopes, magazines, cartons, and other paper products.

Besides using recovered paper and trees to make paper, paper mills may also use wood chips and sawdust left over from lumber operations (whose products are used to make houses, furniture, and other things). Today, more than 36 percent of the fiber used to make new paper products in the United States comes from recycled sources.


Paper Products & Everyday Life

Many of us take for granted that paper allows us not only to enjoy our lives but also to go about our daily routines with greater efficiency.

From the thinnest tissue, to the most absorbent diaper, to the toughest corrugated box, there are almost as many different kinds of paper as there are uses for it.

Most of us begin our mornings by enjoying the comforts of paper products - from facial tissue and paper towels, to the morning newspaper, to the carton that holds your orange juice, and the paperboard packaging that holds your breakfast cereal.

Our children benefit from paper each school day from classroom drawings and notebook paper to text books that students learn from.

  At work, office papers help us communicate. Even in this
  digital age, and despite talk about the "paperless office,"
  office papers are essential for copiers, laser printers,
  brochures, notepads, and other uses. And since digital
  documents can be deleted, there's nothing like having a
  back-up on paper.

  Wherever we go, paper is there to help at every turn. It's the
  bags that hold your groceries or latest clothing purchase.
  It's the cards, letters and packages you receive, the cup
  that holds your coffee, and the album that holds your memories.

Even while we sleep, paper is still hard at work providing a host of innovative paper products that help hospitals deliver cleaner, better patient care and protect healthcare personnel. Paper is at work in thousands of industrial and manufacturing applications helping keep the air clean, and providing protective apparel and innovative packaging.

When you consider the tremendous benefit of paper, it's clear that we must all continue to work together by recycling used paper. Recycling is easy to do, and it's good for business and the environment. So next time you read the paper, open your mail, clean out your files, or empty a box, don't put that paper and paperboard packaging in the trash. Complete the circle and recycle it.