Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Reducing Paper Use and Wastage


By Wong Ee Lynn

(Photo credits: Pyo Ng) 

Even if all paper products were recycled, there would still be a need for paper to be made from virgin resources, as individual paper fibres can only be recycled a finite number of times (generally 5-10 times). As such, paper waste prevention is the most preferable means of reducing the environmental impacts associated with both paper manufacturing (including the demands on land and forest resources) and paper recycling. 

Here are some of the most important ways of reducing paper waste:


 1. Terminate subscriptions to junk mail, catalogues, magazines, newsletters and newspapers in print form and subscribe to electronic publications instead. Only print out articles that you will need to refer to again, or better yet, copy and paste them into a Microsoft Word (or other word processing programmes) document and save the soft copy under a folder for articles and reference materials. Review the folder periodically and delete articles that you no longer need or are no longer relevant, to reduce memory/hard disk space.

2. Request your bank, credit card company and telecommunications service providers to send your bill to you via email instead of by post. Switch to online banking to reduce paper waste and the need to drive out and find a parking space.

 3. In the bathroom, use only as much toilet paper as you need, and do not take more than necessary. This also applies when you are using bathrooms outside of your own home, e.g. in shopping malls. An average tree weighs 500 kilograms and produces up to 200kg of toilet paper. 83,048,116 rolls of toilet paper are produced everyday. 27,000 trees are chopped down daily in order to manufacture toilet paper.

4. Use kitchen cleaning clothes, rags and dishcloths instead of paper towels to clean up spills.

5. Use a handkerchief instead of paper towels or tissue paper. An exception may be made in the case of infectious illnesses such as colds and influenza.

6. Purchase products with the least packaging (paper, plastic or others) possible. Purchase in bulk, refillable packaging and refill packs whenever possible. Avoid single-serve packaging.

7. Bring your own reusable shopping bags whenever you go out (not just for grocery shopping) so you can eliminate both paper and plastic bag wastage.

8. Give gifts in reusable shopping bags (or get creative and wrap gifts in cloth napkins, bandannas, new diapers or blankets) to eliminate the need to buy gift wrap, gift boxes or paper bags. Save and reuse giftwrap and gift bags.

9. Send e-cards instead of greeting cards during the festive period. Send festive or birthday postcards instead of regular cards, as postcards are smaller in size and do not require envelopes.

 10. Use reusable, washable tableware instead of disposable party products when entertaining at home.

 11. Dine in at restaurants whenever possible to reduce the need for takeaway packaging. Bring your own takeaway food containers when you need to take away food and beverages.

12. When eating out, use a cloth napkin or handkerchief instead of paper napkins or tissue papers, or just use the sink or wash stand when done.

 13. Try to reduce visits to fast food outlets where food is served in paper and styrofoam packaging by default. Even taking baby steps such as requesting for a children's meal to be served directly on the tray without the cardboard box, or for your drink to be served without the customary plastic lid and straw, is a positive action.

14. Do not purchase post-it notes and memo pads. Instead, make your own using scrap paper and the backs of receipts.

15. Reduce the use of your credit card, as it necessitates the printing of multiple receipts on non-recyclable thermal paper.

16. Since almost all contact information can be found on the Internet these days, printed phone directories and business directories are redundant. Therefore, there is no need to acquire one.

17. When subscribing to a business, check the boxes requesting the particular business not to add you to their hard copy mailing list and not to share your particulars with other businesses. This will cut down on the amount of junk mail you receive.

18. When entertaining at home or organising a party or gathering, eliminate the need for paper party favours, door gifts and invitations. Invitations can be sent electronically, with e-mail reminders to remind invitees of the date. Less wasteful door gifts or favours can include potted plants, homemade treats, cloth shopping bags, or cloth bandannas/handkerchiefs in themed colours. Face painting and temporary body art can replace paper hats and party favours at a children's party.

19. Decline packaging from product retailers and manufacturers whenever possible. Shoe shops are usually very happy when you decline shoe boxes and plastic bags. Mobile phone and electrical appliance retailers are often able to just deliver the products and warranty cards to you, sans box. They can then reuse the box for the next customer. All you have to do is ask.

20. If you or your family members are avid crafters, save flattened boxes, labels, toilet roll tubes and packaging in a container for your arts-and-crafts projects to reduce the need to buy construction or scrapbooking paper.

21. Switch to reusable and washable diapers and feminine hygiene products to reduce the need for disposable products.

22. Purchase more whole foods to reduce the need for packaged or instant foods. Making a cake or salad from fresh products often do not require very much more time or preparation than making one from a boxed mix.

23. Buy used books, or borrow from friends or the library, if you do not have an e-reader. It is unnecessary to purchase latest bestsellers, considering the fact that you can often find the same books in charity sales and thrift stores within months. For the same reason, consider donating books you have already read to charitable organisations and community libraries.

24. Repair broken items, e.g. cellular phones and electrical appliances, whenever possible, to reduce the need for new products and new packaging.

25. Do not purchase calendars, notebooks and greeting cards from charities just because they are "for a good cause". Consider making a gratuitous donation and gently advising the charity (via e-mail, perhaps?) to reduce the number of calendars and other products printed, especially when it comes to time-limited products such as calendars and annual diaries, as fewer consumers rely on such products these days. If you work or volunteer for any such organisation, consider lowering the production volume of such products, or switching to more practical products and merchandise for fundraising purposes. Sponsorship certificates, e.g. for animal adoptions and the sponsorship of projects and needy children, are a feasible alternative to the sale of merchandise for fundraising purposes.


1. Always make double-sided copies.

2. Set computer defaults to print double-sided.

3. Reuse paper printed only on one side in the fax machine, for draft copies and for internal documents.

4. Preview documents before printing. Use the print preview to spot formatting errors and blank pages. Proofread first and use the grammar & spellcheck to avoid errors that will cause documents to be reprinted. 5. Save emails, minutes and other documents onto hard disk. Delete margins, duplicates, contact details, logos, footers and anything unnecessary, and resize and realign the font and paragraphs to take up the least space possible. It makes for easier reading and if the need to print it arises, less paper will be used.

6. Promote a "think before you copy" attitude. Consider sharing some documents with co-workers. Print only the number of copies needed for the meeting, don't make extras.

7. Print or photocopy only the pages you need, and only the number of copies you need. There is no need to make extra copies for standby. If it is in the disk, it can be reprinted as and only when needed.

8. Save a copy of important documents into your hard disk or e-mail folders. Create folders to keep everything organised and retrievable. Fix a date every month to review the folders and delete documents you no longer need.

9. Saving documents on soft copy may even make your life easier! You can just copy and paste from documents, than refer to the printed copy and type everything from scratch again.

10. However: Don’t be a pack rat and save everything to disk, especially when the information is readily available elsewhere! Keep your inbox and hard disk tidy and organised. This will save memory/disk space and prevent the need to purchase additional disk storage or thumb drives.

11. Examine the reports and documents you print regularly to see if people still need them. Many times, they are created for someone who has left or who does not need it anymore.

12. Remove printers from desks and move them to a central location where one printer will suffice for many people. This will reduce wasteful printing as people will decide it is too much hassle to print unnecessary and personal items.

13. Have an inter-departmental competition to see which dept uses the least paper. Give each Dept a fixed number of reams of paper a week, and mark the packaging, e.g. with Dept X #1, #2 and so forth for each ream. At the end of each week, reward the dept that has the most unused reams of paper remaining. Of course, you will need to take into account the fact that some office departments, say, the Legal Dept, will need to use more paper than the others.

14. Impose a fine on those found to be wasting paper, e.g. crumpling up once-used paper and tossing it into their wastepaper basket when they should be putting it back into the printer tray for drafts. Even crumpled paper can be reused as memo pads.

15. Give members/subscribers/customers/clients the option of going paperless and of receiving newsletters, correspondence, catalogues and other documents via email. Of course, this is not possible where there are legal issues, e.g. acceptance of contract, admission of liability etc, so in those instances, resize and reformat before printing and print on both sides if you can. If a hard copy is going to be sent to you, then don’t print out the email.

16. Unplug the fax machine and request that the sending party email instead. That way, you have more control over whether something should be printed, and you can resize and reformat it before printing. This will also eliminate junk mail by fax. At least try to unplug the fax machine after official office hours.

17. Keep copiers and printers in good repair and make it policy to only buy copiers and printers that make reliable double-sided copies. Let your copier maintenance person know when a copier is performing poorly (toner is low, jams frequently, etc.). Regular copier maintenance is important, especially if the toner is low. Copiers are often used until all the toner is gone and that wears down machines. A copier that works well is less likely to jam and this helps save paper.

18. Not all recycling agencies or local authorities accept shredded paper for recycling. Therefore, do not shred more paper than is necessary. Use the shredder only for confidential documents.

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