5 ways we can decrease our paper consumption and save our planet

Although we are supposedly living more digital lives, paper consumption globally has been increasing. Here are five ways we use less paper in our work lives.


In today’s society, many of us pride ourselves on our ability to conduct a significant portion of our personal and professional lives electronically. Arguably, such a feat is consistent with the expectation that as our lives become more digital, it will also become more paperless. However, the facts are considerably more sobering, as the following examples below highlight::

  • Our planet is currently losing over 15 Billion trees each year (equivalent to 48 football fields every minute).
  • In the last 20 years, the usage of paper products has increased from 92 million tons to 208 million, which is a growth of 126%
  • 45% of the paper printed in offices ends up trashed by the end of the day – this daily lifespan occurs for over a trillion sheets of paper per year, worldwide.
  • Over 60% of the roughly 17 billion cubic feet of timber harvested worldwide each year is used for paper and pulp
  • The paper industry uses more water to product a ton of product than any other industry.
  • Discarded paper is a major component of many landfill sites, accounting for about 35% by weight of municipal solid waste.
  • Worldwide consumption of paper has risen by 400% in the last 40 years with 35% of harvested trees being used for paper manufacture.
  • Loss of forests contributes between 12 and 17% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions.
  • If the current rate of deforestation continues, it will take less than 100 years to destroy all the rainforests on the earth.

(Sources:  EarthDay.org; The Paperless Project)

Friday, 22 April, will once again be commemorated as Earth Day to raise awareness of environmental issues. In this its 46th year, the focus is on “Trees for the Earth, with the goal set of planting 7.6 billion trees by 2020. For those who are interested, Earth Day-related initiatives have been planned in most Caribbean countries, and details can be found on the Earth Day Network website.

Countries with Earth Day 2016 Activities (Source - EarthDay.org)
Countries with Earth Day 2016 Activities (Source – EarthDay.org)

However, after the fanfare of Earth Day 2016 has died down, here are some tips that can be implemented in offices to reduce paper consumption:

  1. Read documents on digital devices. While most of us are prepared to read emails and short messages on our digital devices, for longer documents, we may be more inclined to print them. Regardless of whether it is just a handful of pages, it all adds up over time. Moreover, many of us still have not trained ourselves to read longer documents on PCs, laptops, tablet computers, or even our mobile/cellular phones. All it really requires is practice, and understanding what might be the most optimal conditions for you – such as font size and amount of back-lighting – to read.
  2.  Use recycled paper. Although it may be impossible to eliminate the printing documents altogether, when it absolutely cannot be avoided, do make the choice to use recycled paper. On occasion, it may be necessary to use beautiful and pristine card stock, but it is likely that recycled paper would be adequate for most of our printing needs, Furthermore, it is a more environmentally friendly product that is more energy efficient to produce.
  3.  Print double sided and two sheets to a page if possible. Again, when it may necessary to print a document, it is recommended the print as efficiently as possible to limit the amount of paper consumed. In the first instance, consider printing on both sides of the paper, which will cut the paper used by half. Thereafter, if the font allows, print two pages per side of paper, resulting in each having four pages, and again reducing the number of pages printed by half. For presentation slides, and again, if the font allows, it may be possible to have four slides per page, which can be read quite comfortably.
  4.  Store documents digitally.  It is still necessary within your organisation to have ALL documents printed? In most instances, the answer is no. While it might be mandatory for some types of documents to printed and stored physically, the rest can be stored digitally. The challenge most of us may have is to be consistent and organised in storing our documents, and ensuring that a backup is also maintained.
  5.  Repurpose used paper.  When we are ready to discard printed documents, what do we do? Putting them in the dustbin should not be the first option. Depending on how the paper has been used, it might be possible to repurpose it into notepads, or to jot brief messages and scribbles. Ultimately, the goal should be to find ways of fully maximising the usefulness of each sheet of paper, before we discard it.

 

Image credits:  Andrew Malone (flickr);  

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