We discuss the successful <i>in situ</i> synthesis of metal nanoparticles (NPs), such as copper, platinum and gold NPs, on a microstructured paper matrix composed of ceramic fibers as the main framework and zinc oxide (ZnO) whiskers as a selective scaffold for metal NPs synthesis. The as-prepared composite material, denoted metal NPs@ZnO paper, is lightweight, flexible and easy to handle, leading to excellent practical utility. The metal NPs@ZnO paper was used in a variety of catalytic reactions for energy, environmental applications and useful chemical synthesis. Its catalytic performance was far better than that of conventional catalytic materials. These results suggest that the combination of highly active metal nanocatalysts and a paper-specific porous microstructure, which allows effective diffusion of heat and reactants during catalytic reactions, provides significantly higher catalytic efficiencies. Therefore, metal NPs@ZnO paper composites are expected to be promising catalytic materials in future sustainable societies.