What to do after you've read this paper

In a world of expensive gifts and gadgets, a newspaper may hold the key to the cheapest fun. You may be busy holiday shopping when you first read this, so save this Monitor so you'll have something else fun to do on your vacation.

All you need is scissors and tape to 'recycle' a bunch of old newspapers (make sure everyone is through with them first) into "trees," hats, and noisemakers.

If everyone in your family is done reading this issue of the Monitor, you can get started now. (But don't recycle these directions!)

Meanwhile, you might also like to read some interesting facts about newsprint:

• Newspapers were made from cotton rags until the mid-1800s. That's when Charles Fenerty of Halifax, Canada, made a revolutionary discovery. After observing at his family's sawmill, he produced the first paper made of wood pulp (ground-up wood), or what we know today as newsprint. It was much less expensive to manufacture. Unfortunately, Mr. Fenerty didn't patent his invention - which eventually revolutionized the industry.

• The beauty of newsprint is that it is inexpensive, thus helping to keep newspapers affordable (the price of most dailies ranges from 35 cents to $1). Newsprint is uncoated: It isn't treated with clay the way the "slick" pages of magazines are. Because it's uncoated, newsprint is very absorbent. It accepts ink well, and can be manufactured on large, smooth continuous rolls well suited to run through high-speed printing presses.

• To recycle old newspapers into clean newsprint ready to become a newspaper again, printed pages must be turned back into blank ones - all the ink must be removed. The de-inking process that allows newsprint to be recycled wasn't available until the late 1960s.

• The tiny wood fibers that make up newsprint eventually break down. A sheet of paper, therefore, may only be recycled four or five times before it is useless as newsprint.

• Nearly one-third of the wood fibers in the Monitor you're reading are recycled. (A blend of old and new fibers makes a stronger, brighter paper.)

• About 70 percent of American newspapers are reused in some way.

• Besides being reused to print new newspapers, recycled newsprint ends up in cereal boxes, egg cartons, pencils, grocery bags, and building insulation. It even makes good bedding for farm animals.

• The reason newspapers become yellow and brittle over time relates to an impurity in the newsprint. The culprit is lignin, a natural substance that "glues" the microscopic cell walls together in wood fibers. Though it's not an acid itself, lignin promotes an acidic reaction in the paper when it is exposed to light. In fact, the deterioration process often begins before you even get to read that day's paper.

• Newsprint production does not threaten the world's dwindling rain forests. That's because hardwoods, which are found in tropical forests, are not suitable for newsprint production. But softwood conifers are. Most newsprint comes from managed evergreen forests in North America and Europe.

Sources: Newspaper Association of America; Minnesota History Interpreter; State Library of Victoria (Preservation and Storage Division); Spokane (Wash.) Regional Solid Waste System.

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.