What’s the Problem?
Paper is something that we use almost every day, at the workplace and at home, but not much thought is given to the energy usage and environmental cost involved with making paper, and getting it to us.
It is predicted that Americans throw away over 4 and a half million tons of office paper and nearly 10 million tons of newspaper every year, almost all of which could be recycled. Some of this paper usage is simply unnecessary – 210 billion sheets of paper are consumed by faxing in U.S. companies every year, and 10,000 sheets of paper per year are used by a single U.S. office worker. 95% of this paper will eventually be thrown away and sent to landfill.
Why Go Paper Free?
According to TechSoup, if every household in the U.S. reused a paper grocery bag for one shopping trip, roughly 60,000 trees would be saved. One ton of recycled paper saves 3,700 pounds of lumber and 24,000 gallons of water. One ton of recycled paper uses: 64% less energy, 50% less water, 74% less air pollution, saves 17 trees and creates 5 times more jobs than one ton of paper products from virgin wood pulp. Recycling 1 ton of paper saves 17 trees (35’ tall), 2 barrels of oil (enough fuel to run the average car for 1260 miles or from Dallas to Los Angeles), 4100 kilowatts of energy (enough power for the average home for 6 months), 3.2 cubic yards of landfill space (one family size pick-up truck) and 60 pounds of air pollution.
Meanwhile, a single tree can filter up to 60 pounds of pollutants from the air each year, and rainforests that once covered 14% of the earth’s land surface now only cover a 6%. Based on the current consumption rate, experts estimate that the last remaining rainforests could disappear in less than 40 years.
What Can We Do?
October 27 is World Paper Free Day. Use this opportunity to form positive new habits, and reduce, reuse and recycle paper in your home and the workplace.
In the Workplace
Since so much paper is wasted in the workplace, this is a key area to learn to reduce, reuse and recycle.
- First, you need to get a recycling system going in your office. Set up bins in the office that collect paper waste. Label them clearly – one bin for SCRAPS FOR REUSE and one bin FOR RECYCLING. Place them next to a central bin if possible so that people can make a clear choice. If your workmates are your pal, add the label LANDFILL WASTE to the regular bin. Paper that has only been used on one side, or only used a little, can go into a SCRAPS bin and reused to make notes on later. Colleagues may grump about this initially but nothing is more frustrating than needing a scrap piece of paper to jot something down, and nothing costs the office as much money as wasting paper that can be reused. The RECYCLING bin can be used for all other paper, and this can save your company money as many schemes collect recycling waste for free, while charging companies for landfill waste collection. Use facts like these to get your boss on board.
- If your company uses paperwork that is of a sensitive material, used papers can still be shredded in the office, and taken home for composting or for use in pet cages such as guinea pigs, hamsters, rats and gerbils. They will love it, and so will your pocket when you can use it as a substitute for hay!
- If sensitive paperwork is collected and shredded by a professional body, contact the collection company to ask whether the paper is then recycled. If the answer is no then try persuading your boss to switch to a shredding company with a recycling policy. Remember, green business means good business – remind your boss that changing who you do business with is a great move for the company’s image; you can advertise the fact that a high percentage of your paperwork is recycled to your customers.
- Scrap paper that is reused and then recycled will drastically cut the amount of paper usage in the office. Why not use the money saved to buy recycled paper in future? Again, this will be great for the company’s image, especially as more and more consumers are demanding to know how green the companies they buy from are.
- Next, give up faxing, and encourage your colleagues to do the same. Sending emails is much quicker and reliable, not to mention greener.
- If you’re able to get some of your colleagues on board with your exciting brain-powered paper-saving schemes, why not introduce a ‘paper waste’ jar into the office? The idea is that it works like a swear jar, and whenever people trash paper that can be reused, or forget to use the recycling bin, they drop a few pennies into the jar. They’ll soon learn better habits! To keep things friendly you could also form two teams in the office, and each team can have their own bins and jars. At the end of the week the team with the fullest jar can spend the money on something nice for the other side of the office, for example flowers or chocolates, which will also subtly remind everyone not to be the losing side next time..
- Since so much waste in the office is paper-based, you could also try hiding people’s bins for a few days, to demonstrate to them how much paper they are throwing away, or have only a central bin for waste which is based next to the recycle and reuse bin. If colleagues are not keen on the idea, remind them about that potential weekly box of chocolates..
In the Home
This is the easiest place to save paper because you (hopefully) get a bigger say in how things are done.
- Find out what the local recycling collection scheme is. If you haven’t already, put additional bins throughout the house, next to bins used for trash. Label them clearly again – one for SCRAPS and one for RECYCLING – and notice how much paper you save by reusing scraps, and how much smaller your weekly bin bag is.
- If your local authority doesn’t already have a recycling scheme for paper in place, try contacting them to ask why. Ask your neighbours how they feel about it and get a petition going. Recycling facilities create local jobs and are not difficult schemes to set up. In the meantime, reduce your paper use and compost whatever you have left. Cardboard in particular makes a great addition to wet compost as it helps to soak up some of the liquid that the breakdown process creates.
- If you don’t compost and you can’t recycle, try donating used paper to local schools and art projects; you’ll save them money if they’re using newly made paper all the time.
- You can also try the paper waste jar idea at home, to get other family members and children on board. Spend the extra money on buying recycled paper if you don’t already, or as a treat for little ones to encourage them to take part.
- Thanks to the internet almost every company has the option of emailing you bills and creating accounts to access online statements, invoices, and so on. If you haven’t already, open online accounts and contact your electricity, gas and water companies to opt out of receiving paper bills. There’s no need to print them out and keep them since all the information you need is stored in your online accounts. It’s incredibly wasteful to throw statements in the bin when you don’t even need to open them, so make sure you opt out quickly!
- The same goes for online banking and bank statements. Online banking is a safe, secure service which means that your bank details don’t travel halfway across the country to get to you on paper. Again, you don’t need to keep printed versions either.
- Put a sign on you front door asking not to receive junk mail, and send any unwanted post that you receive back to the sender. You can also opt out of some junk mail online via the DMA here and www.directmail.com. If you’re still receiving junk mail after opting out, use this contact list to see who to complain to about it.
- Get crafty! Paper-Mache is easy to make, and all you need for it is paper from the recycling bin. You can make everything from a piñata to the good old Paper-Mached balloon-ball. If you want to get super crafty take a look at this list of all the things you can make using waste paper. You’ll never send anything out to be recycled again!
- If you’re into gardening, plant seedlings in home-made pots from folded waste paper. These biodegrade nicely into the soil when you plant the seedlings out.
- Consider online subscriptions to newspapers instead of getting them in the post. Also think about sharing your subscription with your neighbour or work colleagues; why buy the same paper and create double the waste when you can spread the cost by sharing?
- In many places recycling newspaper is easy but it’s also worth holding onto as it has many versatile uses.
- Newspaper can also be used as pet bedding and to protect floors before getting arty. It biodegrades quickly and easily and can be added to the compost bin after use.
- Want sparkling windows and mirrors but fed up of giving your hard-earned dollars to faceless corporations? Try using sheets of newspaper to clean them. First, wet a sheet of newspaper and wipe the surface with it. Then, using a dry sheet, clean the wetness off. Try it – you’ll never buy cleaning products for these purposes again!
- Newspaper burns easily and is therefore ideal for starting campfires or adding to woodburners and fires in the grate at home.
- Keep stacks of newspaper on hand for packaging up goods in place of bubble wrap. Newspaper works just as well if you add enough layers, and is much less environmentally damaging than buying plastic wrap.
- If you’re a gardener, use newspaper to make a weed barrier. Raised beds can be created by laying out pieces of newspaper on the stone or wood before you fill it up with dirt. Newspaper is also handy for covering gardens over winter when you want to stop weeds from invading, as it breaks down naturally into the soil.
- Get crafty! Used paper can be made into adorable goods such as this one – and just in time for Christmas, too!
- Learn origami, a meditative, beautiful skill that can also be used to make wonderful gifts for people. Or, if that ancient art is not for you, make collages using waste newspaper and paper.
- Instead of buying wrapping paper, which is super-wasteful and usually can’t be recycled, wrap gifts in newspaper. You can use colourful sheets or pages with nice pictures on, or you can decorate the paper first with natural paints. Children love to decorate using their hands and feet and wrapping paper that has been made this way can end up as popular as the gift inside it!
Although the facts about rainforest depletion and landfill sites are disconcerting, by being a little more creative with our waste, and also more organised, we can all contribute to positive solutions. Remember: saving paper means saving trees, rainforests and the air we breathe. Don’t stop with these lists- have fun with it! The sky’s the limit when it comes to reducing, reusing and recycling paper.
Have an idea we haven’t mentioned here? Add it in the comments sections below!
Image Source: Turinboy/Flickr