There are many ways of making things out of waste paper and card, but they are not usually
referred to as ―technology‖. Appropriate Paper-based Technology (APT for short), however, is a
system of knowledge and techniques that has been developed in Zimbabwe over the past 18
APT does not include every technique that uses paper and card to make things. ―Appropriate‖ in
this case means that the objects created must be suitable for and able to be used by the intended
owner, and capable of meeting some need which for reasons of cost or unavailability cannot
otherwise be met.
Appropriateness is the essence of APT. It was born in 1977 as ―Art that costs nothing‖ among
students needing both a cheap art form and furniture and equipment. They discovered that with
waste paper and card and a paste made from leftovers of their daily meal of ―sadza‖ (boiled maize
flour), they could make a variety of much needed products that were remarkably strong. By 1980
they were making desks and using them in schools, and within years people were making special
furniture and teaching tools, low-cost solar cookers, handicrafts and furniture to sell, and an
endless list of apparatus and special furniture needed by people with disabilities.
Four strict rules became and still are the parameters for the development of the technology.
1. Every APT article must be strong. Furniture must stand up to use, and some abuse. Weak
furniture would be dangerous, especially to people with disabilities. APT structures are based on
simple but sound engineering: APT boards made by laminating card cannot crack; properly made
APT joints that are wrapped over with several layers of strong pasted paper cannot work loose.
Paper, though thin, is not weak, and when layered or laminated it dries hard and resembles the
wood from which it was made.
2. Every article must be useful. Strength of course is a prerequisite for usefulness, but the rule
means more than that. The technology is manual and individual. Things are designed for
individuals or distinct categories of users. APT technicians make or modify shapes and
dimensions to suit the user; where possible they check the product with the user during its
construction, and make it adjustable to allow for growth or to suit another user.
3. Every article must be attractive. This is not an optional extra. It contributes to the value of the
article and ensures that it will be cared for. APT decoration has to be done with no-cost materials.
Decorative material comes from magazines, calendars, coloured wrapping paper, or earth paints.
APT earth paint is made simply by grinding and sifting selected soils and mixing the fine powder
with water and a little paste. It is usually applied by hand, smoothed with a piece of foam rubber,
and textured with different home-made plastic ―combs‖ or ―grainers‖. Larger articles are invariably
painted with earth colours to save decorative paper. APT artists may branch out into APT for art‖s
sake, but APT‖s approach, like that of the finest traditional arts and crafts, is to make useful
things that are beautiful.
4. Every article must be made from materials that cost nothing. (Flour for paste and varnish, if
used, is the only exception to this rule.) Limiting the user to flour paste as an adhesive has far-
reaching effects. Applying paste moistens and weakens paper and softens card. It also causes the
material to expand in a certain direction and as it dries to contract with a very strong pull. Things
do not dry evenly: the top surface dries and contracts first, tending to curl upwards. All this gives
rise to some very difficult situations that the APTer has to learn to control.
Practical Action, The Schumacher Centre, Bourton on Dunsmore, Rugby, Warwickshire, CV23 9QZ, UK
T +44 (0)1926 634400 | F +44 (0)1926 634401 | E email@example.com | W www.practicalaction.org
Practical Action is a registered charity and company limited by guarantee.
Company Reg. No. 871954, England | Reg. Charity No.247257 | VAT No. 880 9924 76 |
Patron HRH The Prince of Wales, KG, KT, GCB