Paper is an essential part of our daily routines at home, school or work. Today, paper is easy to come by and the technology has promoted its use by making it efficient and accessible. Paper has gone through a journey throughout the world that has given way to different technologies and techniques to develop it into the current forms it takes today.

Early history of paper

The Han dynasty is responsible for producing many great products by using the technology of the times to create the first paper. Perhaps one of the most celebrated and enduring products of this dynasty is paper.

silk road

The Silk Road has brought an exchange of products from East to West

Before the invention of paper, documents were carved in bones or bamboo. Even though this was a common practice at that time, this method was very time consuming and awkward. The nature of these materials is also heavy and difficult to transport. A lighter material, silk, is also very expensive and was unavailable to the masses. It was in the Han Dynasty that the formula of making paper as well as the early forms of technology for it was developed.

In its earlier days, paper was made out of mulberry and other bast fibers. The bark of the mulberry tree is pounded and formed into a sheet. Later on, to improve the quality of the paper produced, hemp waste, fish nets and old, unused rags were added into it.

Paper was originally used for padding for delicate but valuable items such as bronze mirrors. It was also used to wrap medicine especially those that are deemed to be poisonous. Paper also served as a lining for bags carrying tea. It wasn’t until the 3rd century AD that paper was used for writing became common place.

Korea and Japan were the early adaptors of the paper technology. They have learned to manufacture paper by hand. Soon after, papermaking spread to Central Asia to Tibet and all the way to India.

The Arabs took hold of the papermaking technology by winning the battle of Talas around 610 A.D. It has been said that the secrets of papermaking was obtained from two Chinese prisoners. This gave way to the establishment of paper mills in Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo. Later, paper mills were also developed in Morocco, Spain and Sicily.

The Silk Road, the series of routes that has given way to trade of products and cultures between the east and the west, has given way to the widespread use of paper throughout the world. the export of paper to europe has given way for new technology to be developed that has made paper available to the masses and became the material that we use daily today.

Fig 13 Drying

Early papermaking in Europe

Paper in Australia

It was in 1818 that the production of paper began in Sydney, Australia. Though the cost of constructing a paper mill and purchasing equipment such as a papermaking machines impacting the growth and the establishment of the paper industry in the early times in Australia. Other cities followed suit putting in studies and attempts to establish viable paper mills. By 1860, more sustainable mills were established in various cities across New South Wales and Victoria. While there are still several paper mills in Australia, today most of the products are sourced from other countries. Australian Paper who employ more than 1200 people are likely to be involved in sourcing paper products in the Australian  market.

Modern day paper mill - Australian Paper at Maryvale Mill

Modern day paper mill – Australian Paper at Maryvale Mill

Paper today

Today, paper is made out of pulp derived from wood. Pulping can be done chemically or mechanically. Other components such as rags or grass can also be added into it. This combination is then dried and made into flexible sheets.

Paper can also be made from recycled materials. Paper is broken and its fibers are separated. This can be done using either the chemical or mechanical method. Manufacturers aften add an amount of virgin fibres to improve the quality of the end product. Recycled paper often turn out as good or of lower quality than the original material it was made from.

Majority of the paper that we used today is made in the US. They produce 80 million tons of paper each year. Next to the US is Japan and in the third spot is China. These three countries are the major players in the world’s paper making industry.

Even in this age where documents and a large part of communication are done digitally, paper is still widely used in our daily lives. One look at our immediate surroundings and we see paper in the form of books, ads and packaging. On average, each person in Australia uses 150 kilograms of paper annually.

Paper has transcended from simply being padding to delicate objects to the most important resource that we have. Paper is used in the most basic forms of communication in terms of letters, the newspapers and magazines. It is used to immortalize events and facts in the form of yearbooks, textbooks and novels. Businesses recognize the ability of paper to bring profit in by utilizing catalogs, brochures, leaflets, flyers and mailing lists as a form of marketing strategy.

Going back to its roots

The manufacturing of paper and the development of printing technology has its roots in China. Paper, after all is regarded as one of the most significant contributions China has offered to the world. In present times, papermaking and printing is still alive and well in China. In fact, they are considered as a world leader in printing acquiring the best in technology that is available.

Printing technology in China

Printing technology in China

Companies are embracing a more global business process by assigning their printing needs offshore. China is a prime destination for printing jobs because of the availability of numerous printing houses, advancement in technology and cost efficiency.

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