Write this down — or better yet, type it on your laptop: Cutting down on your paper consumption is easier, and more vital to the environment, than you might think.
According to the Environmental Energy Technologies Division at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the United States consumes more than 90 million tons of paper annually. Wow ... or maybe I should say, "Holy sheet!" The EETD adds that this paper use averages to nearly 700 pounds per person — more than ten times what it was a century ago. (For more facts on paper consumption, click here.)
Even the typical office drone burns through 10,000 sheets of paper a year (much of it split, no doubt, between notices for "very important staff meetings" and the bored doodling on note pads those meetings inspire).
Excessive paper use has an insidious domino effect; more trees cut down, increased global warming, more energy consumption, along with plain old waste. So how do we do better? I’ve collected eight painless strategies for cutting down on paper consumption. Read on, and before you get to the bottom of this page, you'll be able to start cutting back.
1) Mail PDFs instead of print versions. The next time you’re tempted to print out receipts or archive info on your computer, mail yourself a PDF instead. Here’s how it works: Hit print, but instead of printing out to paper, hit the "Mail PDF" button that allows you to send a PDF copy to yourself and your recipient via your computer’s email program. Since I started this about a year ago, I find receipt storage from online transactions, for example, much easier to manage — and I lose far fewer scraps of paper.
2) Use your smart phone as your note pad. Here’s another way to go high tech and save the scraps: The iPhone has a standard Notes app on it that allows you to take notes — the screen even looks like a yellow legal pad — and email them to yourself. That app became a lot more convenient once iOS4 came out, allowing most iPhone users to type using a wireless keyboard.
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.
4) Save your parcel boxes. In our house, we have a corner where we stash parcel boxes. When I receive a package, I break down the box, store it flat and save it for when I have to mail out a package. Yee hah! That saves me money on buying boxes at the local UPS or FedEx store.
5) Change your printout practices. My writing students at Loyola University Chicago taught me lots of nifty ways to save paper on printouts. You can set wider margins on your paper, and print in a smaller font size; 10 point is pretty readable compared with the normal default of 12 point. My eco-savvy students also stressed printing out on both sides of a paper and reusing old one-sided printouts for another go-round. Those ideas get an A in my book.
6) Ask for recycled copy paper when you shop. At office supply stores, such as Staples, you can buy paper that consists of anywhere from 10% to 100% recycled content. The 100% recycled copy paper sells for as low as $8.79 a ream, so it’s affordable as well as eco-friendly. The trick is to make sure you re-recycle your share once those copies have done their duty at the office.
7) Eliminate paper towels. I’ve seen a number of stories decrying paper towels as an absolute waste. 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 paper towels do.
8) Toilet training for adults, eco-style. Without going into too much detail here, too many of us use too much paper in the bathroom, whether it’s toilet paper for wiping or paper towels to dry our hands. I know, I know: I hate those air hand-dryers in public restrooms, too, but the good news is that they’re getting more efficient and more powerful. As for the toilet paper part, let’s just say that in an overwhelming majority of cases, you don’t need to yank the roll and unspool 10 yards of the stuff. (Bachelor slobs, you know what I’m talking about.) Try using as little as you can get away with, and the environment will thank you. According to the National Resources Defense Council, the ongoing demand from tissue companies each year results in clearcut logging that claims half a million acres of Ontario and Alberta's boreal forests, for starters.
Now as for whether you should thread the roll inside or out, that’s another debate entirely.