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What Are the Different Raw Materials for Paper?

By Maggie J. Hall
Updated May 17, 2024
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Many raw materials make up the ingredients for making paper, and common paper-making materials include grass, straw, and wood. The by-product pulp from sugar beets and sugar cane can also be used.Attempting to reduce waste, some paper manufacturers use paper products and textiles. The fibers in these raw materials are held together with a binder to produce the paper. Paper manufacturers can obtain raw materials for paper from any number of places, including lumberyards, sugar processing plants and companies that collect paper and textiles for recycling.

The length of the cellulose fibers in plant material determines the type of paper that can be made from that fiber. Raw materials for paper that have long fibers generally produce a stronger, thicker product. Wood from cone bearing trees, including fir, pine, and spruce, typically have these long fibers. Old magazines, newspapers, and other previously used paper products generally have shorter fibers.

When the raw materials consist of wood, bark must be removed and the lumber must be reduced in size. Machines typically chip or shred the wood into smaller particles. Once reduced into a workable product, the material is ground against a rotating stone and exposed to water. Manufacturers may also use a chemical process in which a sulfur solution dissolves the wood into a fibrous pulp. Plant or textile materials are then cooked.

Besides reducing textiles or waste paper products in size by shredding or other mechanical means, manufacturers using raw materials for paper, generally remove any dyes and inks in the material. Factories often accomplish this task by washing and rinsing the fragments. Manufacturers sometimes expose the pulp solution to a mild bleaching process, converting the product to the desired color. They then spray or otherwise apply the pulp in thin layers onto porous surfaces. Subjected to air and pressure, the pulp dries, forming paper.

Papermaking plants typically produce over 1,000 tons of pulp daily. Producing approximately one ton of pulp from wood requires 10 to 17 trees. This amount of pulp creates enough paper to print around 7,000 newspapers. Approximately one third of the raw materials for paper in the United States are waste paper products.

The Chinese, sometime in the first century AD, were the first people to use raw materials for paper. The craft eventually spread throughout Asia and into Egypt, where bark, hemp, and rags served as raw material. The first paper mills developed in Spain around the middle of the 12th century, and the paper-making process spread throughout Europe around the 15th century. Grinding wood into a pulp to make paper began only around the middle of the 19th century, however.

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Discussion Comments
By clintflint — On Jul 25, 2014

@KoiwiGal - Hopefully that attitude will continue to change. I know there are definitely places now where you can farm industrial hemp for use in legal products, rather than as a drug.

It requires quite a lot of processing equipment to turn it into paper though and I'm not sure that you can interchange the equipment used to turn other raw materials into paper.

By KoiwiGal — On Jul 25, 2014

@Ana1234 - I imagine they have to bleach it and process it a little bit more in order to make it at the quality that people expect. The problem with recycling paper is that it can't really be done indefinitely. The fibers become shorter every time and so the paper needs to be thicker and rougher to hold its shape.

They usually either mix in raw materials or they jump through hoops to make the paper work.

With that said, there is actually no need to chew up trees in order to make paper. It can be made from all kinds of byproducts, like those from bamboo and sugar cane, as well as from other plants like hemp. Considering how much faster those kinds of plants grow, it actually seems like a waste of time to use trees, even from a financial point of view. But, unfortunately, even non-THC containing hemp is usually illegal.

By Ana1234 — On Jul 24, 2014

I particularly like the idea of making paper from old jeans and other material like that. I've always wondered if recycled paper is more expensive because it's actually more expensive to make it, or if it's just because people are willing to pay more to get recycled paper.

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