As a Green Dad, you learn to lead by example — so believe you me that as I compiled this week's column, I didn't waste a single scrap of paper, save for the napkin I used to wipe this morning's latte from my mouth. And on that score, I suppose I could've snagged a hankie instead.
Paper conservation is serious business. For starters, cutting paper use means saving water. Environment Canada estimates that 39 gallons of water are used to make a single pound of paper. And according to the American Forest and Paper Association, the United States uses a quarter of the world's paper products: more than 748 lbs. per person per year. We go through 68 million trees just to produce all those catalogs and direct mail pieces that most of us toss out.
Fortunately, you can minimize or reduce the paper you use in many painless ways, and save money to boot. Green Dad shows you how with these eight tips, almost all of which you can put to use in about the time it takes you to read this column. So save a copy and see what you can do — though for the love of trees, don't print it out! Which leads us to our first tip:
1) Adopt a "Zero Print Tolerance" Rule at Home
I like to call this rule "think before you print." It's amazing how, thanks to newer technologies, we can do away with most of the printing we took for granted just a few years ago. Why print out directions to a destination when you can map them in your smartphone? Why print out coupons when you can have the local pharmacy scan a barcode from that same phone? Most printers hog up ink, too, and printer cartridges are notoriously difficult to recycle.
Green Dad's Bottom Line: If a ream of paper (500 sheets) costs $10, eliminating six printed sheets per day means more than four reams saved per year, or more than $40 annually.
2) Swear Off Paper TowelsI'll admit that when you've got spill-happy kids, nothing beats the convenience of paper towels in the kitchen. But do we really need them? Planetgreen.com, for example, claims paper towels create 3,000 tons of landfill waste a day. The obvious alternatives include cotton hand towels and rags, which, while they'll create more laundry, certainly won't impact the environment the way throwaway towels do.
Green Dad's Bottom Line: If the 12-count family size of paper towels costs $15, and you use more than one roll each week, eliminating paper towels will save you about $90 annually.
3) Newspapers Are Bad News
Not to ring yet another death knell for my former industry, but newspapers simply waste paper. Recycling a ton of newsprint means saving about a ton of new paper, but that doesn't always happen. By some estimates, one-third of all newsprint goes straight to landfills, trashing the equivalent of about 40 million trees. Get your news online and you'll be doing your part to save paper.
Green Dad's Bottom Line: If a newspaper costs $1 a weekday and $2 on Sunday, switching over to online news sources will save you $364 a year, not to mention all those backbreaking trips to the recycling bin.
4) Save Your Parcel Boxes
I can't remember the last time I bought a parcel box at any store, and here's why: In our house, we have a basement corner where we stash boxes. When I receive a package, I break down the box, store it flat, and save it for when I have to mail a package. That's a recycling trick motivated by the miser in me, as I hate paying for shipping boxes unless absolutely necessary.
Green Dad's Bottom Line: If 9x5x5" boxes cost $25 for a bundle of 25, and you ship two boxes a month, you'll save $25 annually.
5) Switch to Online Billing and Wireless Banking
True, online banking can take time to set up, but many banks will help you if you stop into a branch and ask for assistance. And boy, is it worth it! The benefits mean more time for you and less time in front of a checkbook. Any regular bill you normally pay with a check, you can just as easily pay online — and many banks will even set up recurring payments for you, so you never miss a mortgage or car payment. What's more, most companies want you to go paperless with billing, as that saves them big money.
Green Dad's Bottom Line: Watch for frequent promotions that businesses offer if you switch to paperless billing. In terms of stamps, envelopes and checkbooks, you'll save about 75 cents per bill you pay online — meaning that 100 bills paid online should save you $75 per year.
6) Conduct Paperless Meetings at Work
When I think of all those "important meetings" I sat through at the Chicago Tribune, my eyes start to glaze over, especially when I imagine thousands of pages of meeting notes clogging some landfill the size of Texas. If you're running the meeting, send out the agenda and notes ahead of time via email, and encourage co-workers to bring their laptops to the meeting for note-taking. If you're hashing out a really complicated presentation, such as a PowerPoint presentation, you can send the participants out with USB drives, CD copies, or PDFs via email.
Green Dad's Bottom Line: I started to crunch the numbers here, and then I thought: "shorter meetings." Isn't that incentive enough?
7) Recycled Toilet Paper
Yes, they can make toilet paper from recycled material (though I hope it's not used toilet paper). The fine folks at Seventh Generation make a toilet paper that's soft, hypoallergenic, and without added dyes or fragrances, with a minimum of 50% post-consumer material. Here's what they tell us about the impact we can make: "If every household in the United States replaced just one 12-pack of 300-sheet virgin fiber bathroom tissue with our 100% recycled product we could save 1,900,000 trees, 690 million gallons of water, and 4.8 million cubic feet of landfill space (enough to fill more than 7,200 garbage trucks)."
There's also the option of going "tubeless" — that is, buying toilet paper without the cardboard tube. Back in October, Kimberly-Clark unveiled Scott Naturals, a tube-free toilet paper designed to cut back on waste. (Currently, a 12-pack costs $14.99 with $2.99 s&h). The 17 billion toilet paper tubes produced annually in the U.S. account for 160 million lbs. of trash and could stretch more than a million miles placed end-to-end, so the tubeless measure is a big deal in TP circles. As for whether you should put a roll with the first sheet facing inside or out, that's another story.
Green Dad's Bottom Line: This Seventh Generation Toilet Paper 12-Pack (300 sheets per roll) runs you $7.99 with $2.99 for shipping. That's 92 cents per roll, which is still under the per-unit price for a few deals we've listed in the past six months from conventional brands.
8) Get a Grab-and-Go Coffee Mug
I can't imagine a morning without coffee, but when I think about all the paper cups I've tossed along the way, it's enough to make me swear off caffeine — well, almost. I recently bought this nifty Thermos 16-oz. Stainless Steel Backpack Bottle ($21.50 with free shipping via Prime, a low by $10), which I love. Now, the next time you go to a Starbucks, you can get a 10-cent discount per coffee drink, no matter what you order, which is one way to make that Starbucks habit a little less expensive.
Green Dad's Bottom Line: Saving 10 cents on one coffee a day for a 5-day work week adds up to $26 a year, enough to pay for your mug and a few extra lattes.