Meet the Canberra not-for-profit changing the world by turning your old jeans into paper
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Meet the Canberra not-for-profit changing the world by turning your old jeans into paper

Where do daggy old jeans go to die? If you thought most were living a second life in op shops and being used as repurposed shorts, skirts and 90s-inspired handbags, you'd be wrong.

The majority – about 80 per cent – of disused denim will end up in landfill.

Artisan Sarah Sadler of Griffith making paper from old denim at Paperworks in Watson. She works at the organisation for one afternoon a week.

Artisan Sarah Sadler of Griffith making paper from old denim at Paperworks in Watson. She works at the organisation for one afternoon a week. Credit:Rohan Thomson

It was a statistic that shocked Canberra's Susanna Pieterse and the Paperworks' chief executive and artistic director realised there had to be a more environmentally-friendly solution for unwanted textiles.

"It's an absolutely significant quantity that ends up in landfill, especially if you consider, how denim is processed when you start right from the cotton harvesting," she said.

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Artisan Sarah Sadler of Griffith making paper from old denim at Paperworks in Watson.

Artisan Sarah Sadler of Griffith making paper from old denim at Paperworks in Watson. Credit:Rohan Thomson

"I just felt, in a certain sense, we were being disrespectful of the origins of the source material by just letting it go to landfill so easily.

"I thought, if we could use denim, we'd be able to keep it out of landfill and, secondly, it could be a beneficial product."

And so began the dream of turning old denim into paper and giving it a "another life".

Denim is not the only textile that can be recycled into paper and kept out of landfill.

Paper made from denim.

Paper made from denim.Credit:Rohan Thomson

"We can use denim, we can use bed linen, anything that is 100 per cent cotton," Ms Pieterse said.

Paperworks, which is based in Watson, recycles textiles, such as denim, and locally-harvested plant fibre, such as from Floriade tulips, into paper, stationery and seed tiles, where seeds are attached to small recycled, biodegradable paper squares to make planting easier.

But there is also much more to Paperworks than just an environmentally-friendly mission.

The not-for-profit social enterprise was started in 2009 by a group of volunteers and parents of adult children with special needs who wanted to offer a creative environment for people, regardless of their background, culture or abilities, to feel socially included.

Paperworks runs social hand paper-making workshops which enables people, including those with special needs or from low socioeconomic backgrounds, to make friendships.

"It's the fact that we're giving people hope that really matters," Ms Pieterse said.

"Everybody wants to feel valued and that they are making a contribution to their community. We hope that providing these opportunities for friendship across all possible boundaries, there would be an opportunity for people to develop their social skills and also become more employable.

"In the end it's an all-of-community project. It's not just about us and how good it feels to actually make something, but the fact that we know it does have a greater purpose.

"We know loneliness contributes so much to mental health and, if we can keep on encouraging people to make friends, that there will be people caring about them and people they can reach out to.

"There are so many benefits in running a little enterprise like this."

The enterprise employs artisans trained in hand paper-making and relies on donations to stay afloat.

"The paper products produced in the studio are meant for resale and the proceeds fund the wages of the artisans and so that's a very important part of what we do is keep the employment continuing," Ms Pieterse said.

The products produced by the artisans are sold at various places around Canberra, including the National Arboretum, the National Botanic Gardens and Australian Choice.

Donations to Paperworks can be made via Hands Across Canberra.

Natasha Boddy is a reporter at The Canberra Times.

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