Paper and textiles have been used ubiquitously in our everyday lives, such as books and newspapers for propagating information, clothing and packaging. In this perspective, we will summarize our recent efforts in exploring these old materials for emerging energy and environmental applications. The motivations and challenges of using paper and textiles for device applications will be discussed. Various types of energy and environmental devices have been demonstrated including supercapacitors, Li-ion batteries, microbial fuel cells and water filters. Due to their unique morphologies, paper and textile-based devices not only can be fabricated with simple processing, but also show outstanding device performance. Being renewable and earth-abundant materials, paper and textiles could play significant roles in addressing future energy and environmental challenges. © 2012 The Royal Society of Chemistry.