Friday, May 22, 2009

Limitless Paper in a Paperless World

Fans of The Office might remember the title of this post as one of Michael Scott's unforgettably goofy slogans. But paper - a ubiquitous office supply that is the lifeblood of Dunder Mifflin - is undoubtedly in limited supply, and we should stop treating this resource, well, as if it grows on trees. That might seem a little backwards, coming from a catalog copywriter, but believe me, seeing fresh stacks of our monthlies (which will be about as useful as outhouse wallpaper just weeks after that) has only further inspired me to waste less paper.

Here's a look at the stats. In the U.S., we're real log hogs: between 1990 and 2002, paper consumption increased 15% from 84.9 million tons to 97.3 million tons. The country's ever-growing need is met by roughly 450 U.S.-based paper mills (which also produce a nice big hunk of air, water and land pollution in the process). And, despite all the computers at our disposal, paper continues to be a billion-dollar industry. That's enough to give anyone pause.

Now that we're all on the same page, here are 50 sensible (and sometimes quirky) ways to reduce, reuse and recycle paper.
  1. Buy in bulk to reduce paper-related packaging. When you buy, check to see if the products themselves make use of recycled paper.
  2. It's old-fashioned (and hard on germophobes), but a gentlemanly handkerchief offsets an infinite number of kleenex.
  3. Save postage, envelopes and paper checks with online billpay (often provided by your bank and utilities for free).
  4. Prevent junk mail from clogging your mailbox by signing up at
  5. Save notebooks & notepads to use as scrap paper (grocery lists, kids' projects, etc.).
  6. At the office, don't print/fax every single memo when an electronically stored email will do.
  7. Reexamine your newspaper subscription; do you need a physical copy every day?
  8. If you have a firepit/fireplace, stop using newspaper and start your fires more efficiently with starter bricks. Or just have fewer fires.
  9. Save plain paper bags for carrying and storing items.
  10. Pieces of cardboard can also be used as backing in picture frames and even some furniture.
  11. Embrace the paperless world of online news and magazines.
  12. Minimize the use of toilet paper. Unless you've got a case of the swine flu or some other issue we don't want to know about, you probably don't need half a roll for one sitting. You might also try a bidet...
  13. Use a perpetual-use calendar (dry-erase, magnetic kits, etc.) or your computer/email's calendar application.
  14. Check with your local recycling facility for a specific list of recyclables (you might be surprised with what they'll accept).
  15. Instead of paper Chinet, opt for dishwasher-safe plastic tableware at your next party.
  16. Overpriced book-reading device that it is, the Kindle is your paper-free alternative to physical copies.
  17. Donate your old books to book-sharing programs such as PaperBackSwap and BookMooch.
  18. Libraries often accept stacks of old magazines. (you could recycle them, but consider the fuel required to haul them away).
  19. Save wrapping tissue and giftwrap from gifts received to use when you give a gift.
  20. Shredded paper waste can be used in compost bins, as packaging material when moving, and in cat litter boxes (although it does get stinkier/messier).
  21. Don't buy paper towels! Use rags and old t-shirts to clean up your messes. At the office, use the air hand-dryer if available.
  22. Some business-reply envelopes received in the mail can be saved for personal use.
  23. If you bought a new coffee machine requiring different-shaped filters, you can probably still use your old filters if you're careful. Or use a filter-less coffee pot. Of course, you can compost spent filters, too.
  24. Switch-out your post-it notes with a dry-erase board for household messages, scheduling, etc.
  25. Phonebooks can be recycled - just make sure to tear them up into manageable chunks before you toss them in your bin.
  26. If you're in the market for a house and are looking into a new construction, consider a builder that uses enviroboard - panels made from ecologically safe-sourced material.
  27. Natural wood flooring is nice, but laminates and bamboo have a slightly smaller environmental impact (as always, do your homework to find the right company).
  28. If you don't need a receipt for a given transaction, make sure to tell the clerk; they may be able to prevent the machine from printing one.
  29. Photo paper is still paper; consider investing in a digital camera.
  30. Egg cartons can be re-used to hold Christmas ornaments and plant seedlings, among other things.
  31. Shoe boxes also make excellent storage containers and help organize closet/shelf space and prevent the need for rubbermaid containers.
  32. Pizza boxes can't be recycled because of grease exposure; however, the tops, which are usually grease-free, can be cut off and binned.
  33. Add a footer to your outgoing email reminding recipients to minimize paper use.
  34. Paper of every kind is two-dimensional; we often use scrap paper from work to print mapquest directions, etc.
  35. Size matters: don't use a whole sheet of paper when a post-it note will do.
  36. Engage in environmental stewardship: when you see paper being trashed, recycle it!
  37. Reduce the need for paper products by sharing cookbooks, magazine subscriptions, sheet music, etc. with friends and family.
  38. Used paper can also be used for origami, paper mâché and other crafts.
  39. It sounds goofy (and it is), but hole-puncher clippings make good confetti. When you're cleaning up the day after the festivities, use either a broom or your vacuum's dirt cup so that the scraps can be emptied into the R-bin.
  40. After moving to a new address, don't forget to remove the packing tape from your boxes and tear them down so that they can be recycled. Or flatten and save the boxes if you'll be moving again.
  41. Sweat the small stuff: clothing tags, receipts and expired coupons can be recycled.
  42. Make recycling more convenient: when you put a tray by your desk or a paper bag in your bathroom, you're more likely to use them for the purpose.
  43. Use cloth napkins instead of disposable ones.
  44. Download music online, and you'll avoid a physical copy of the album art and liner notes (which are often included in the MP3s' ID tags, anyway).
  45. Another option other than post-its: use the memo function of your cell phone to store lists and messages. Just don't do it while driving.
  46. Bring your own washable grocery bags to the grocery store.
  47. Buy recycled toilet paper. It's a bit more expensive, but at least you'll have some peace of mind.
  48. Not to get all hippie on you, but buy hemp. An acre of hemp produces as much paper product as three acres of trees, and hemp grows faster, too.
  49. Bring your own mug to Starbucks; you'll get a 10-cent discount and save another paper cup from the trash.
  50. Plant a tree. Duh! :)

Can you think of more ways? I suppose the best advice I can give is to use less paper whenever possible, because ironically, even the recycling process involves CO2 production and pollution involved with de-inking.

I invite other suggestions and crazy ideas from our readers, as I'm sure there are many more not mentioned above. Happy recycling!

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