I was unwrapping a new bedding set, wishing it did not involve so much plastic, when I realised the comforter, sheets and each pillowcase were folded around a cardboard square - yet another example of excess packaging.
Cardboard, like paper, is made in what can be an energy- and water-intensive process that often requires chemical treatment. Although the industry has taken sustainability steps, including using larger amounts of recycled materials, an estimated 300 million tonnes of paper and cardboard are produced around the world each year. Those extra squares got me to thinking about how to reuse this strong material in more interesting ways.
In a rare do-it-yourself spurt several years ago I attempted to make a scrapbook using leftover cardboard, wrapping the covers in handmade recycled paper and using leftover ribbon to secure the pages. Bookbinding turned out not to be my speciality, as the end result was beautiful but fragile. There are much sturdier versions on offer at www.etsy.com, as well as cute magazine and file folders, fabric-covered pin boards and painted gift tags.
More high-minded inspiration comes with the recent release of Michael Czerwinski and Santiago Perez's Outside the Box: Cardboard Design Now (Dh73, at www.amazon.com). Charting the history of "a material of endless possibilities", the book looks at workable and wacky applications in contemporary cardboard design, including children's toys, disaster relief housing and furniture.
In 2009 the British author Jemma Foster published The Cardboard Book Project, a series of short stories printed on recycled cardboard. She was inspired by a small Argentinian collective, the Eloisa Cartonera, which prints books on recycled cardboard from the "carteneros" who make a living picking it from the streets of Buenos Aires.
All over the world people are doing unique things with this material, from "eco coffins" for human cremation or burial to makeshift but slick snow sleighs. My plans to reuse cardboard are less lofty, and for now I'll fold my jumpers around them so they don't wrinkle. Also, with February 14 looming, this is the perfect time of year to use old cardboard and paper to create the very best kind of Valentines: homemade ones. Little girls in particular love a big, personalised card that can be dressed up with old lace, wrapping paper, glitter and kisses.
An easy way to give newsprint a new life
When it comes to recycling, it can be difficult to find a drop-off point and hard to know what will happen to the materials. One way you can ensure your newspapers are being reused is to drop them off at your local Ikea store, where staff wrap up breakables in them.