Want to decorate your home for a party? You could buy a bunch of bright-colored paper streamers or rubber balloons that you inflate with air. These things are inexpensive, but they’re typically made in China by exploited workers in polluting factories and then shipped halfway around the world to you, wasting a bunch of fossil fuel. When the party’s over, you can compost these things–if you don’t mind having those strong dyes in your compost (do you put it on your food plants?) and you’re willing to wait a couple years for the balloons to break down. Another option is to buy mylar balloons and shiny plastic decorations, made (usually in China) from irreplaceable petroleum, which aren’t recyclable and will never biodegrade. You could inflate your balloons with some of the world’s dwindling supply of helium, which we need for so many other more important things.
Or you could save your money, reduce your environmental impact, lighten the load in your recycling bin, and keep your kid busy while you do other things to get ready for the party! Simply convert some scrap paper into festive link chains to festoon your home, like this:
I have a big surplus of colored office paper right now because I’m transitioning to a paperless filing system at work, and my old system used sheets of colored paper as the second level of dividers in binders–that is, each major section was marked by a stiff paper divider with a tab, and then within the section I put a sheet of colored paper before each new subsection printed on white paper. I got most of the colored paper by scavenging in recycling bins for things that had been printed on colored paper and then discarded, so it was already reused. Now it’s getting a third use!
When my 8-year-old son Nicholas spent two days at work with me during spring break, I gave him a big pile of outdated documentation I’d removed from my binders and had him sort out the white paper (to be recycled), the colored paper (to be saved for repurposing), and the various sizes of paperclips (to be reused). He worked very diligently. Then he did some crafts, using as much of the colored paper as he wanted. I still had a stack of at least a thousand sheets.
In preparation for a party a few weeks ago, I brought home about a hundred sheets, and we made a bunch of paper chains. Nicholas and I did this together while watching TV, but he could easily have done it himself. I remember making link chains from scraps of Christmas wrapping paper to decorate the Christmas tree when I was about 4 years old, and as I recall my mom just showed me how to do it and then left me to it while she was busy baking, wrapping gifts, cleaning, and so on.
Here’s what you’ll need to do this easy craft:
- paper. You can use office-quality paper, old gift wrap, glossy magazine paper, newspaper comics, scraps of fancy paper left over from another project, etc. Just don’t use tissue paper or aluminum foil–they’re too flimsy to hold together in a chain once you hang it and the weight is on just a few links.
- white glue. This works much better than glue-stick. It’s less expensive than tape, looks better on the finished chain, and doesn’t waste plastic.
- some kind of shallow dish for the glue. We used a plastic lid from a quart bucket of yogurt.
- damp cloth for wiping your fingers when they get too gluey.
- a large working surface, such as a big table or an expanse of floor. Either cover your surface with a washable cover or old newspapers, or be prepared to sponge up some glue when you are done.
Cut the paper into strips 1/2″ to 2″ wide and at least 5″ long. You can use a ruler and be very exact and straight-edged if you want to, but we just cut them freehand. Make them all approximately the same size for a nice even-looking chain.
Take the top off the glue bottle and pour about a tablespoon of glue into the dish. Put the top back on!
Choose a strip and lightly dip one end of it into the glue. If your paper has a “right side” that you want to be on the outside, make sure to dip the “wrong side”. Bend the strip so that the gluey end overlaps the other end by at least 1/2″. Press together, and rub it a bit so that the glue spreads around.
Now choose another strip and dip it in the glue. Place it through the link you already made. Press together.
Continue adding links until your chain reaches the desired length. Leave it spread out on your working surface until glue is completely dry, about half an hour. Attach chains to walls, ceilings, and window frames using tape.
When you’re done enjoying your decorations, simply drop them into the compost bin (paper and white glue break down into dirt in six months or less) or paper recycling bin.
Decorating with paper link chains works for me! Visit Mom’s Library for more fun things to do with kids! Visit Waste Not Want Not Wednesday and Green Living Thursday for more ways to use resources wisely!