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Recycling with Papier Mache - and Ernie!

Recycling with Papier Mache - and Ernie! by Jackie Hall

Make use of waste materials – they’re plentiful (and free!)

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  • Date addedAdded: February 5, 2004
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Recycling with Papier Mache - and Ernie!

There is no other art or craft form that is quite so environmentally friendly as papier mache. It is a recycler’s dream. Ever since it’s very distant origins, anything and everything has gone into papier mache. See: History of Papier Mache.

These days we have different by-products to recycle, but a much more serious reason for using them. With landfill sites filling up and forests becoming bare of trees, the more we can do to prevent further damage to our planet the better.

I, like most others who use papier mache as an art form, am always on the lookout for throwaway items which I can use in my work. What I can’t use I take down to the recycling centre. So when I was asked by Rethink Rubbish to make them a papier mache logo for a promotion in the Lancashire area, I was only too pleased to help.

Reth!nk Rubbish

The completed Ernie
The completed Ernie

Rethink Rubbish is a National Independent Waste Awareness Campaign that persuades the public to reduce rubbish and get into the recycling habit. Launched in May 2003, it works in partnership with a range of organisations to provide useful information on how to recycle our waste. For more information visit: Reth!nk Rubbish.

Rethink Rubbish asked me to make them a large papier mache elephant and to leave it unpainted so that it was obvious that it was made of newspaper. The significance of an elephant of course being that an elephant never forgets. I used many newspapers in making him and he started to take on his own character. I used pieces of coloured paper torn from newspaper supplements and junk mail to give a bit of definition to his eyes, mouth, tusks and toenails.

Then “Ernie”, as they christened him, began a gruelling tour of Lancashire towns to bring people’s attention to the kerbside collection boxes and bags where they could take their old newspapers.

Ernie took part in many photoshoots for local newspapers and was a big hit with the children.

Just one of the many promotional photocalls that Ernie took part in. This one was for the Rossendale Advertiser.
Just one of the many promotional photocalls that Ernie took part in. This one was for the Rossendale Advertiser.

Newspaper Article
Newspaper Article

Newspaper Article
Newspaper Article

Waste products we can use in papier mache

Large Carboard Boxes

These can be cut up and used as flat panels. The really big boxes are usually made of single or double corrugation so are very strong.

Small Boxes/Cereal Boxes

This cardboard is much thinner but is useful for adding features i.e. handles on jugs, rims on pots, bases and lids.

Kitchen/loo roll cardboard tubes

Cardboard tubes have many uses. They can be covered, sliced, or have curved sections cut from them. They come in various sizes which can be useful depending on the project.


Polystyrene is excellent for covering with papier mache. You can cut and it is very light. It will also hold it's shape. You can also use polystyrene chips or “peanuts” as they are sometimes called to build up your work. For an example of what they can be used for, see Leaflin's Van Gogh tutorial.

Milk/Juice cartons and plastic bottles

Both plastic and card milk containers come in useful. For an example of what you can do with the plastic milk bottles, see Karen's Mask Tutorial and for a great way to use those cartons (and help wildlife) see Terry's Birdhouse Tutorial.

Plastic Yogurt pots and food containers

These can be covered in papier mache to make models or used as moulds. Plastic margarine and ice cream tubs also make excellent storage containers for all that papier mache pulp!

Egg Boxes

The little pockets in egg boxes make excellent eyes for a dragon or anything else your imagination can think of. The whole box can also be pulped down to re-use.

Newspapers, Magazines and Junk Mail

Newspaper is of course the most obvious material to use for papier mache, but some magazines and junk mail have some lovely coloured paper that can be used.

Old Wrapping Paper

Colourful, bold designs and patterns on gift wrapping paper make wonderful decorative features on papier mache work.

Compact Discs

When you have enough drink mats from all the free advertising CDs that we get sent by the barrel load, Meg from Ontario has come up with a brilliant suggestion on how to use them in our papier mache projects - bases for pots and vases. Meg says: "I started my very first papier maché project yesterday and so far it's going very well. I decided to use a couple of CD 'coasters' (otherwise useless CDs) to make the base for my bowl. I glued them together with the paste and stuck them on with white glue. The beauty of using these, aside from their perfect roundness, strength and being just the right size, is that there's that hole in the middle so it's easy to line up with the marked centre".

Final words...

You will probably find many other items that you can use. This is just a start. Happy Recycling!

(and Ernie!)

All press photographs supplied by the kind permission of Ptarmigan Consultants Limited.