When we think of wood and paper, we usually see it in this way; wood = source, paper = result. What if we turned the model upside down and saw paper as the source and wood as the final product? This was the concept behind Mieke Meijer's project at the Design Academy Eindhoven. Thinking of paper as the final state of the product was limiting. With so much paper as the end result of newspaper production, Mieke envisioned an opportunity to recycle the process and recreate the wood. NewspaperWood is an innovative and ecological material, produced from the recycling of newspapers which, due to printing errors or other reasons, have left the production cycle.
When NewspaperWood is cut, the layers of paper take on the typical appearance of wood grain. The material can be cut, milled and sanded, and, like wood, is generally treated. We talked with Mieke Meijer, Arjan Van Raadshooven and Anieke Branderhorst, to learn more about the project.
Your idea was born in 2003, when you were studying at the Design Academy Eindhoven: what was the input? Tell us more about the genesis of this interesting project…
Mieke Meijer: NewspaperWood started as a student project at Design Academy Eindhoven. In the spring of 2003
I started my third module in the department ‘Atelier’ at Design Academy Eindhoven. This department was different from all others: the classes took place in the middle of the workshop. Students who chose this direction were true ‘makers’. Experimenting with materials was the
basis for each assignment. The assignment we worked on at that time was about wood. Wood is, in its smallest form, the basis of paper. Once turned into paper it does not come out of the paper recycling cycle anymore. I thought it would be nice to turn the process around and turn paper into wood again. When I started making a ‘paper tree’ I didn’t know what the outcome would be. The result was beyond expectation. Beside the fact that the material seemed to act like wood, it was just beautiful!
Then you got in touch with Arjan and Anieke of the Vij5 design brand…
Mieke Meijer: Yes, actually not with the intention to collaborate on the NewspperWood project. But when they saw the material they fell in love with it and were interested in apping as a material alternative within the Vij5 collection. The project however took a different turn. We invited designer friends to experiment with and come up with NewspaperWood product ideas which Vij5 presented during the Salone del Moile in 2011. Surprisingly there was a lot of interest from automotive companies which resulted in a project with Peugeot for a concept car. Because of this development we decided to join forces in a new company. In March 2014, NewspaperWood BV was established. Within this company we could dedicated focus on the production and development of the NewspaperWood material in orderto find new intermediate products and innovative applications.
We could start industrialising the production process of the material.
What were the first reactions of the public after the presentation of the project at the Dutch Design Week?
Mieke Meijer: Already back then, the response was very promising! We were only showing the material in a very raw, initial shape. But people already started to fantasize about floors, furniture, etc. made out of NewspaperWood.
Entering into the merits of the material: how is it possible that piles of recycled newspapers manage to take on the connotations of wood?
Arjan e Anieke: In fact, we litterally ‘copy paste’ the structure of wood, by making new ‘tree logs’. The logs are layered because of all the layers of newspaper are stacked to each other. This gives the same effect as wood grain or growth rings of a tree and therefore resembles the aesthetics of real wood.
Once cut, can NewspaperWood be milled and sanded just like traditional woods? Is it possible to add pigments and proceed for customization?
Arjan e Anieke: There is a lot possible with NewspaperWood but you have to be willing to experiment. We have done plenty of experiments already, and there is still a lot to explore. NewspaperWood may look like wood, but you have to take into acount it is still paper combined with glue. So, it partly acts similar to wood, but also partly needs its own instructions. It is a very delicate material and the glue used in the material can work in your advantage (for example on 3d shaped forms) but it can also result in cracks. This is why for now we choose to only process the material as a veneer, as in our experience this is the most stable form of the material.
What are the main uses of the material? You count numerous references and partnerships, both in the design and fashion fields, and not only ...
Arjan e Anieke: To be honest, there is not yet a main use of the material. All projects we have done so far, have been quite experimental. For example, we worked on some conceptcars in the automotive sector, we used it in furniture and interior design, we made jewelry with it and it was even used in a watch. We are very grateful for the trust and opportunities those partnering companies gave us, making us able to proof and show that the material has potential. Now we are looking for companies that actually would like to go a step further and implement the production process of NewspaperWood into their own production lines.
How has the NewspaperWood project evolved over time?
Arjan e Anieke: It has been quite a ride untill now! Mieke already invented the material in 2003 and started working with us in 2007, so the project has been around for almost 20 years.
Despite the visual and storytelling succes of the material, making NewspaperWood producible and accessible to a larger audience did not happen overnight. We had to move from a manual process to a less labour-intensive and cost-efficient product. Step by step we made progress, but with every solution we often encountered a new problem. We managed to create a custom made NewspaperWood machine that is able to make the tree logs for us. We are still in a pre-production phase though, as we are looking for the right partner that is willing to invest in the first NewspaperWood production line. We can do small scale projects, but we do not sell NewspaperWood ‘off the shelves’. There has to be a reason to produce the material before we start.
This invention is not only aimed at fighting waste, but also at adding new beauty to the environment around us. What new goals are you setting for the future?
Arjan e Anieke: Exactly, NewspaperWood does not aim to become a large-scale alternative to wood or to recycle all paper waste into a new material. The main theme of the project is 'upcycling'; we show how a material surplus can be used in something more valuable by using it in a different context. Next to the value of beauty, NewspaperWood also has very strong visual and storytelling characteristics. We hope this can help making sustainability more appealing to the public.