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The dryer at a paper millThe dryer at a paper mill Paper is usually made from wood pulp. This mashed-up wood contains fibres (or strings) of cellulose. Cellulose is the substance that makes up the cell walls of most plants and is very strong. To make paper, the cellulose fibres are moistened then pressed together into thin sheets. When dried, the sheets are flexible but strong. Sometimes paper is made from the cellulose fibres of other plants, such as cotton or grasses. Paper is produced in a range of thicknesses and colours, while different coatings can make it shiny or waterproof.

A mask made from papier mâchéA mask made from papier mâché

Uses of paper

The most common use of paper is for writing and printing on. We write and draw on paper in exercise books, sketch pads and diaries. Large sheets of paper can have words and pictures printed on them by machines, then be folded, cut and bound (by gluing or stapling) into books, magazines and newspapers. Sometimes the words and images printed on paper can make it valuable: banknotes, cheques, tickets and vouchers are all usually made of paper.

Paper is also frequently used in packaging (boxes, envelopes, bags, wrapping paper) and in household products (toilet paper, tissues, cat litter, teabags, sandpaper). Wallpaper may line the walls of your house, or insulating paper filling may fill the cavities between its walls to help prevent heat escaping. Paper can be used to construct products, either as the sole material, as in paper lampshades or papier mâché bangles, or mixed with other materials, such as plastics, to construct strong but lightweight objects such as bicycle helmets or boat hulls.

Toilet paper was first used in the 6th century AD in China. Before the adoption of this invention, people used rags, leaves, sand or water for cleaning themselves.

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