Ozark Outdoors

Papercrete: Half the fun is making it

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"America’s only growing resource is trash. Papercrete is just another useful way to recycle. I love turning recyclable material into dollars!"
– Lee Coates


If half the fun of papercrete is making it, the other half is getting friends to try it. Or, if you’re Lee Coates, showing others how to make this do-it-yourself combination of recycled paper pulp, portland cement and perlite. Or selling his creations at the Greater Springfield Farmers Market or a dozen other events where he also delivers more formal presentations on Japanese Maples, hostas and other topics while he makes others laugh and maybe think twice.

Along the way, he’s likely to purchase myriad plants to bring back to Peggy’s Flowers, the wholesale/retail business he and Peggy Coates operate at Highlandville (he’s the former mayor who likes to call himself "Mr. Peggy.")

Members of the Cherry Court Garden Club mold papercrete into an art form.

Members of the Cherry Court Garden Club mold papercrete into an art form.

Coates travels the country demonstrating his art form for others, as he did closer to home recently for the members of the Cherry Court Garden Club meeting at the Botanical Center. But he’s as likely to be at the Greater Ozarks Hosta Society booth at the Lawn & Garden Show, or the Arkansas State Conference of Master Gardeners meeting in Harrison June 2-4, or presenting a Saturday seminar at Garden Adventures in Nixa.

History lesson: from Babylonian times to hippies

Asking him when he first ran across Papercrete is a history lesson:

"Oh, about 1972 when I was reading the Mother Earth News," he says. "Back then us hippie types were experimenting with all kinds of alternative building materials to bolster our alternative lifestyle. What we found was that there is nothing new under the sun. We were just refining decades of technology that had preceded us. In fact, they have been using a similar recipe since Babylonian times. We are just substituting readily available ingredients to the original recipe.

"Then, about about four years ago, I was looking to build some pots for bonsai. I found a fellow on a Polish bonsai email list that was molding pots using only paper pulp and portland cement. I began experimenting with recipes and molds and it all grew from there."

Coates uses everything from recycled telephone directories to junk mail to shredded documents from an undisclosed location too sensitive to discuss in this open forum. In other words, just about any paper will do. Soak the paper in water until it becomes pulp. Stirring helps.

Lee Coates with a sample of his own creations

Lee Coates shows off some of his creations after a demonstration at Garden Adventures in Nixa. He turns them into bonzai planters and miniature gardens.

"I have experimented with several different recipes but they are all basically just portland cement, paper pulp and a filler. My favorite filler is perlite."

In that order, the ratio is 3-2-1 plus just enough water to turn it into a thick oatmeal paste. It blends easily with a mixing bit on a cordless drill in a bucket, and eventually a mold of your choosing. The rest is an art form. Allowed to dry (48-72 hours depending on size) and with with proper care, they should last at least 10 years. Meanwhile, if you want to learn more about the various uses for our favorite homemade slurry, visit www.papercrete.com.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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