Erin Ryder, of Ardgowan School, asks :-

Can paper be made without using trees?

Graeme Robertson, a paper engineer with the Cawthron Institute, Nelson, responded.

Yes. In fact, for thousands of years people used plants, not trees. The word "paper" comes from "papyrus", a kind of reed found in Egypt. Trees have been used for less than a hundred years.

Paper can actually be made from all kinds of things. Very high quality paper which had to last for a long time was made from old rags. You can even make paper from wheat straw or hemp. Native New Zealand flax makes wonderful strong, smooth paper.

In some countries, a lot of paper is made from "bagasse" from sugar mills, which is just crushed, extracted sugar cane which would otherwise be burnt or dumped as waste.

I think the most beautiful paper is called "washi". They make it in Japan from the bark fibres of certain shrubs. It is a backyard operation but skilled craftsmen (or are they artists?) can produce great big sheets, more than a metre wide and two metres long. Some of the most expensive wallpaper in the world is made from washi. I've seen some that looked like a painting of distant hills, but was actually made by making the paper from fibres which had been dyed different colours.

These days, a lot of paper is made from old paper! For example, the inside layers of the walls of a carton are usually made from recycled paper. Of course, the old paper came from trees originally. It's good that trees are a sustainable, renewable resource!