Bye Bye By-Products!
People living in houses built entirely out of recycled newspaper and phonebooks…using chairs that, if broken, can be smashed to a pulp only to be crafted into another chair…landfills never receiving another piece of paper again…welcome to the future as proposed by Stan Shetka, creator and head of All Paper Recycling, Inc. (APR Inc.) and professor of art at Gustavus Adolphus College.
According to their mission statement, “All Paper Recycling, Inc. believes that all wood, stone and plastic consumer products can be replaced with products made from 100% recycled paper, cloth, and/or plant fiber,” and they are well on their way to proving this a possibility. Using a unique and patented process that uses no toxic bonding agents, APR Inc. takes advantage of the natural fiber bonds that result when fiber is mixed with water and pulped into a slurry. All the water is squeezed out (and reused) with a press, creating blocks that can be cut, sanded, glued, varnished, screwed, and nailed…like regular wood. In fact, it performs similarly to pine, but at one fifth the cost. By introducing certain additives to the pulp, ShetkaBoard blocks can be made water-proof, insect-proof, or even flame retardant. And all of these materials and the by-products from production can simply be re-broken down into slurry and used to create again.
A Creative Foundation
Stan made his first paper block as a beginning student at the University of Minnesota. To protest a particular Art History assignment, Stan boiled down his entire textbook to a pulp, smashed it into a solid block, and turned it in, explaining that it was a “different view of history – destroying history to make history.” Legend has it that Stan received an A on that assignment.
ShetkaBoard further evolved when Stan crafted a kinetic sculpture that ate waste paper fed to it by visitors at the gallery, and in return spit out a hard little block of recycled paper. APR, Inc. has grown from there into a profitable business that operates out of a 1400 square foot facility in southern MN that markets countertops, desktops, and tables, along with picture frames, coasters, boxes, and much more. Stan explains that this is an example of “art meeting industry” – of art becoming utilitarian.
APR, Inc. has branched into two main materials: ShetkaBoard and ShetkaStone. ShetkaStone is also produced from 100% post consumer waste paper fiber, but is processed using a certain percent or glossy papers, which by weight contain about 30% clay. Sometimes waste-plastic is added to make it water-proof. The resulting material looks and feels like stone, and is certified with a class “A” fire and smoke rating without the use of chemicals. This material can also be recycled over and over again through the same process.
A Sustainable Future
What does the future hold for ShetkaBoard and ShetkaStone? The possibilities seem almost limitless. Plans include housing that can be built without using any wood. The pieces would stamped out in sections and fit together kind of like Legos. Each wall or roof section will include interior support, insulation, sidding, and interior finishing, with plumbing and electrical utilities already built into each panel, so when you connect sections, electric and plumbing connect automatically. Stan is currently working with an architect on this design.
Another project in the works is a warehouse pallet that is 100% percent recycled, half the weight of wood, using no screws or nails, and which can be recycled again if ever broken. 600 million pallets are made a year in the United States from raw material. With the end of our supply of raw wood materials in sight, Stan’s alternative to this demand will be both timely and accessible.
“I grew up on farm. I saw how it worked and how it changed when herbicides and pesticides were put in. We used to fish in drainage ditches; now there are no fish. There are birds that have disappeared. You can’t find earthworms in the fields. Bees have disappeared: you don’t hear them buzzing in the trees. I have seen this in my lifetime and it’s shocking,” says Stan. With more creative people following Stan’s lead by exploring innovative alternatives to our consumer waste, perhaps we will see an end to the dramatic destruction of our natural world.