The paper diet – 30 tips for home and office

The widespread use of computers was meant to herald the dawn of a new age – the paperless office. Unfortunately, that hasn’t eventuated. The demand for paper and paper based products is still incredibly high and growing.

I use very little paper in conjunction with my online business; in fact I shudder every time a piece of paper crosses my desk. That’s not so much my environmental knee-jerk reaction but more that it means I’ll likely have to *write* something with one of those pen thingies; a skill I’m rapidly losing :).

Regardless of our high tech information storage systems, like plastic, paper seems to be everywhere in our lives – not just in the office, but also in our homes. Most of the world’s paper supply still comes from forests rather than plantations and to create one ton of paper, it takes somewhere in the region of 4 tons of trees.

According to the OECD, The pulp and paper industry consumes the most water of all industries in OECD countries – and is one of the biggest industrial greenhouse gas emitters. Aside from the wood, water and energy consumed; chemical processes involved with the creation of many types of paper products generate toxic by-products that wreak tremendous damage on the environment – the land, water and air.

While an increasing amount of paper is recycled these days which is wonderful, we need to bear in mind that recycling consumes energy and other resources also and often the products we buy containing recycled paper only have x% recycled content.

There’s many things we can all do to reduce our paper consumption – here’s some tips for home and the workplace for going on a paper diet; some of which can also help you save cash!

– For the office, purchase paper containing recycled content or consider using tree-free paper alternatives

– Decrease margin, footer and header sizes and don’t use double line spacing. This can save up to 50% on paper consumption (and cost).

– Print only emails and pages of documents you really need

– Encourage double-sided printing and set duplex printing as the default on your printer

– Preview documents before printing to ensure they are laid out correctly

– Print directly onto envelopes rather than print labels

– Make notepads from paper that has only been printed on one side

– Use reusable envelopes for inter-office mail

– Use erasable wall calendars that are undated

– Reuse file folders

– Post memos on a central notice board or use email

– Fax cover sheet information can be incorporated in the first page of a document rather than need to be a dedicated page

– Compose, send and receive faxes via your computer

– Ensure your copier is well maintained. During my time in the corporate world, I saw many reams of paper wasted due to jams through poorly maintained equipment.

– As an alternative to post-it notes, consider using a whyteboard

– Store letterheads electronically rather than have stock printed, so if your letterhead details change, you won’t be stuck with reams of pre-printed pages.

– Offer major documents on cd or as PDF files to intended recipients

– Use lighter weight graded paper where possible

– Keep cardboard shipping boxes you receive for re-use. You can flatten them to save space.

– Ensure that other paper products you purchase such as tissues and toilet paper contain recycled content wherever you can. Read the labels carefully so you can identify and compare brands to get the the highest recycled content.

– Read newspapers online, or only buy newspapers and magazines when you can use the paper for another purpose after you’re done.

– Contact pamphlet distribution companies and let them know that you don’t want their junk mail in your mailbox. Add a “no junk mail” sticker to your mailbox and lambast any company whose marketing materials still appear! They may blame the distributor, but it doesn’t matter, just make your feelings known – it’s their responsibility to stop it. A company that ignores such requests in this age of “green” is running the risk of nasty publicity. In some countries, there are central authorities where you can arrange to have your name removed from unsolicited mailings.

– Encourage organizations you’re associated with to post their newsletters on the web and to remove your name from paper-based mailings.

– Some utilities and banks that provide online account access will discontinue sending you paper statements,invoices and promotional material if you formally request it.

– Instead of using paper towels, use rags

– When using paper towel, stop and think before you use it as to how much you’ll actually need. I was (and still am sometimes) a paper towel abuser.

– Paper plates are evil – consider lightweight bamboo and other reusable crockery made from renewable resources for picnics etc.

– Buy resusable coffee filters

– Utilize reusable containers instead of paper bags

– Send electronic greeting and postcards instead of paper based ones.

While there’s no escaping paper, we can further minimize our consumption impact on the environment by recycling every scrap of paper we come across; don’t let it wind up in landfill.

Most households and businesses are now provided with special recycling bins, but if you don’t have one of these; create one of your own. It saves digging through the trash to pull it all out :).

Oh, one other tip – worms love to eat paper. If you have a worm farm, you can feed them waste paper that hasn’t been printed with toxic ink and they’ll reward you with a wonderful fertilizer for your garden!

Have some more tips you can contribute for a paper reduction diet? Please add them below!