Paper ought to be a green resource. After all, it comes from trees and other plants, which are renewable resources.
Unfortunately, the process of making paper fouls the water and air near where it’s manufactured. And all those trees (or bamboo culms) would be much more useful doing what they do best: making oxygen, capturing carbon dioxide, holding the soil, making a habitat for wildlife, etc.
Americans use about 700 pounds of paper per capita every year, more than anyone else. As with other resources, we use up–waste–more than our share. Here are some ways of using less paper:
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Prefer recycled paper
When you must buy paper, prefer recycled paper. Of course, in order to buy recycled paper, you need to participate in your local recycling program. It gets a better price from office-quality paper than from much of the rest of what it collects.
Manage your mail
Receive bills electronically instead of through the mail. And pay bills online instead of writing and mailing a check.
All those catalogs, credit card offers, and other junk maill? Create an account at Catalog Choice or DMA Choice (the Direct Marketing Association website) and opt out of the kinds of mail you don’t want.
Prefer sending email or text messages to sending paper
Sometimes, the most meaningful way to communicate with someone is with a handwritten letter or card. Much of the time, it doesn’t matter. Use less paper by exchanging emails or text messages.
Use your printer mindfully
If you must print something, print on both sides of the paper. Adjust the margins to make them narrower, therefore likely to use less paper.
When you print something you find online, look for a “printer friendly” option. If there isn’t one, copy and paste what you need into a word processor. For example, if you want to print a recipe, you don’t need the 114 comments that follow it!
Reuse paper before recycling it
Use anything printed only on one side of the page for scrap paper and note taking. And, of course, don’t use fresh paper for those purposes. If you have access to anything printed on 3×5 cards, hang onto them.
I’m a cataloging librarian. Librarians don’t use card catalogs anymore, and library vendors don’t send anything on cards anymore either. But when libraries dumped their card catalogs, I grabbed an armload of them. I kept a lot of the vendor cards and anything else I got, too. I have a lifetime supply of cards for shopping lists. And I write items horizontally across the card instead of in a column. I scratch items off as I buy them. That way, I can use the same card several times until it fills up.
You don’t need a whole sheet of paper all the time. Cut your scrap paper into the sizes (half sheet, quarter sheet, etc.) that you can fill up.
When not at home, scrounge scrap paper
Don’t take note paper to the library or other places with self-service printers. Other patrons will deposit plenty for you in the recycling containers!
Avoid buying paper products if you have other alternatives
Prefer cloth napkins to paper napkins; wash cloths, dish towels, or rags to paper towels; and handkerchiefs to tissue paper. Basically, prefer anything cloth to disposable paper product except toilet paper.
Prefer reusable plates to paper plates, even for casual entertaining or picnics. If you must use disposable plates, you can get some made from sustainably harvested bamboo. (But even paper plates are environmentally preferable to disposable plastic plates. And you can cut them up and compost them.)
You can even find reusable substitutes for lees obvious paper products such as coffee filters.
Prefer emailed receipts to paper receipts
When you check out at a store, you may have the option of a paper receipt, an email receipt, or no receipt. If you can avoid it, do not have a paper receipt printed. The receipt paper isn’t even recyclable. If you need a receipt at all, have it emailed. You can organize your receipts anyway you would like on your hard drive or in the cloud.
Consider online subscriptions for magazines and newspapers
After spending much of my day at the computer reading from a screen, I really like to relax by reading a paper magazine or newspaper. Some of my subscriptions, however, have moved to an electronic-only format. That will result in using a lot less paper nationwide.
Like it or not, that seems to be the direction of the future. You can choose it before the publisher takes the choice away from you.
By the way, if you want to read a single issue of magazine or newspaper and not subscribe, read it at the library instead of buying a printed copy.
Prefer ebooks to printed books
You need some books that you consult regularly. Get those in print. Others, you will read once and very likely never again. Get those at the library if possible. Don’t forget that if your local library doesn’t own the title you want, you can request it on interlibrary loan.
If you want to buy a book and either you can’t get it from the library or you expect to want to read it several times, you will use less paper if you buy it as an ebook. You don’t need to buy a Kindle. You can install the app on any tablet or computer. I suppose it’s the same with other platforms. The wonderful thing about ebook readers is that you can install dozens and dozens of books and carry them all on the same little machine.
Some of these tips will save you lots of money over time with no upfront costs, because you are either substituting computer space for paper or reusing paper. Some mean buying alternatives to paper, but they, too, will save money over time.
Whatever enough people do can make a big difference to our environment. Let’s start to use less paper—and keep looking for more ways to reduce wasting it.
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