Why is it Important to Reduce Paper Consumption?

Why is it Important to Reduce Paper Consumption?

Paper production in the United States is largely seen as a renewable resource. It is seen this way because the forests are managed much in the same way farmers manage crop production. Trees are harvested and a new batch is planted for the next generation. Regardless of this, we still need to reduce paper consumption.

While the management of logging has come a long way in the last century, consider this fact. It takes 75,000 trees to print a Sunday Edition of the New York Times. That’s only one publication across the thousands of newspapers, magazines, and other printing that takes place. It is staggering.

The United States has over 740 million acres of forest covered land. Of that land, roughly 504 acres is classified for timber production with nearly 60% of that land owned by private citizens. And for every tree that is harvested, roughly 5 new trees are planted.

Now the challenge with paper usage is not about the long-term availability of this natural resource. The challenge is more about the environmental impact and the lack of sustainability. For every tree cut down and processed into paper there is a need for water, electricity, and fuel for transport. While trees may be readily available for many decades or longer, resources such as water, electricity, and fuel are becoming scarcer.

The resources required to support the lumber and paper manufacturing industry is only one side of the sustainability argument. The other factor that environmentalists are quick to point out is that managed forests are not by their nature, natural. Consider this; a forest in Oregon (a large timber state) may have any number up to 37 species of broadleaf trees and another 30 species of coniferous trees. Once that forest has been logged, the remaining land will be left with a small number of mature trees by law and then be planted with thousands of rows of the exact same species of tree. While no forest would have all 67 varieties of tree, the native diversity of the forest is still lost.

Even when paper is recycled, the material goes through an extensive chemical stew that separates and bleaches the fibers for re-use. This process is still toxic and harmful to the environment. Recycling is still important; but the real solution is to reduce paper consumption all together.

Reduce Paper Consumption Because it is Costly

There is an economic impact to paper production regardless of the raw material source. Even if paper is produced using post-consumer recycled goods, the United States spends 68 billion per year just on paper products according to the 2006 U.S. Industry & Market Outlook report produced by Barnes Reports. The average American goes through roughly 700 pounds of paper per year.

Technology advancements have made many forms of paper obsolete and as you continue reading you will see how you can easily reduce your paper consumption. Thoughtful use of electronic readers, smart phones, and collaboration tools can help reduce paper consumption with ease!

When you factor all the costs for paper books, magazine subscriptions, paper plates, and the countless other paper products you go through in a year, the financial savings per household becomes sizable. For businesses seeking to reduce paper consumption, the savings per employee can raise into the thousands.

Tips to Reduce Paper Consumption at Home

No list is all-inclusive; however this should provide a thorough starting point to help your business or home reduce paper consumption:

  • Eliminate junk mail. You can do it by going to the Direct Marketing Association, OptOutPrescreen.com, or CatalogChoice.org.
  • Go paperless to receive and pay your bills.
  • Reconsider those hardcopy magazines and newspapers. Most publications offer online versions for subscribers with the same or enhanced content. Put that iPad or Amazon Fire to good use.
  • Donate old books to your library, a local thrift shop such as Goodwill, or take them to a used book shop for trade.
  • For the college kids in the house, rent your books, buy used, and/or sell them at the end of the semester.
  • Go paperless for paperbacks. Did you know that many libraries now let you check out electronics copies of your favorite books through your electronic reader?
  • Take notes using one of your electronic devices.  Need to make a shopping list; use the notes feature.
  • Use cloth napkins instead of disposable.
  • Use dishes rather than paper plates.
  • Use holiday paper and boxes multiple times. Likewise reuse gift bags for multiple purposes.

Tips to Reduce Paper Consumption at the Office

  • Read trade publications online.
  • Find a purpose to reuse paper from recycling bins.
  • Print on both sides of the paper. Most multi-function office machines already do this. Just enable the feature.
  • Educate employees on appropriate printer usage – for example, printing an email that is stored on a server is unnecessary. Use electronic storage for material.
  • Evaluate which document-sharing solution works best for your business and implement it. Products such as Microsoft SharePoint or Google Apps ensure a higher level of collaboration than experienced by distributing paper copies.
  • Consider reducing the number of printers and evaluate if all job functions truly require an ability to print.
  • Be sure the paper that can no longer be used is recycled.

General Recommendations to Reduce Paper Consumption

  • Only print the pages you need – not the entire file.
  • Proofread before you print.
  • Use narrow margins – less than 1-inch.
  • Buy recycled paper products whenever possible.
  • Use cloth towels and rags instead of paper towels where possible.
  • Use shredded paper as protective padding when shipping boxes. Just ensure all material is cross-cut with a shredder.
  • When you buy paper, buy recycled.

As always… Where you start is up to you. What is most important is that you take that next step. Take action and get involved.

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