Do you remember the promise of the paperless society? Hah! We’re awash in paper. Not only paper for reading and writing, either.
Making paper first means cutting down trees and all the energy and transportation that requires. Then it requires a lot of water and a lot of chemicals, making lots of wastewater that has to go somewhere.
One of the easiest ways you can make a difference to the environment is to use less paper. You know the 3 Rs of recycling: reduce, reuse, and recycle. And that’s the order of importance.
Here are some ways to allow less paper in your home, and then reuse at least some of it before recycling it:
1. Don’t put mailing address on business cards
You hand out business cards because you want people to get in touch with you. But why should they send you mail? If you provide only your city, phone number, and email, they won’t have the option.
2. Buy food in bulk
You’ve heard of “Whole Paycheck Market.” Health food stores have the reputation of being unnecessarily expensive. But if you can buy flour, sugar, rice, dried beans, etc. in bulk, it’s actually less expensive than buying packages in regular grocery stores.
You don’t pay for the paper or plastic package. You don’t pay for the machinery and labor necessary to make the package and measure the food into it. You can find much greater variety of foods in the bulk section, too. Where else can you find spelt flour or hazelnuts?
Stores that sell bulk food supply paper or plastic bags to put it in. You don’t need them. Take your own jar and have it weighed first.
3. Take reusable shopping bags to the store
Paper or plastic? Neither! Get a collection of cloth shopping bags in various sizes and keep them handy. Some stores will even take a nickel or so off your total purchases for every cloth bag you use.
Just remember to launder them from time to time. Especially when you bring home raw meat.
4. Prefer electronic receipts
You go to the store. The checkout clerk hands you a paper receipt. You file some of them for record keeping. Otherwise you just get rid of them immediately, or at least as soon as you reconcile your bank statement.
A growing number of stores ask if you want the receipt sent by email. Yes. You do. You can file the keepers on your computer and delete the rest. The little bits of paper you don’t take home can add up to significant savings.
5. Cut down on catalogs
You probably get a lot of catalogs in the mail, along with advertising flyers, and offers to buy insurance or get a new credit card. And most of it goes straight to the recycling bin, unopened. You can take control using an online service like Catalog Choice.
6. Receive and pay bills electronically
Too bad there’s no “Bill Choice!” You have to get and pay bills, but you don’t have to get paper bills and pay with a check. At least when it comes to utilities, credit cards, mortgages, bank statements, and other regular accounts, you can receive the bills online, save them on your computer, and pay by automatic bank transfer.
7. Subscribe to newspapers and magazines online or use the library
Reading something in print can be a pleasant change from too much time staring at a computer screen, but newspapers and magazines soon become wastepaper.
If there are some magazines that you don’t read cover to cover, subscribe online. Or read them at the library. The trees will appreciate it.
8. Buy ebooks, or use the library copy
You probably have books that you use frequently. By all means get them in print. You get other books, read them, and set them aside. You’ll look at some of them from time to time. Buy them as e-books. You can save more books to your Kindle or other device than you’ll probably ever acquire. Other books you’ll read only once. That’s one of the things the library is for.
9. Use cloth towels, dish cloths, and napkins
Despite the commercials for paper towels, you don’t leave any more germs behind with a cloth dish towel than with a paper towel. You can launder and reuse the cloth.
Same with cloth napkins. Single use products are nearly always a poor environmental choice. In the case of paper towels and napkins, you can’t even put them with the recycling after you’re through. (But you can compost them.)
10. Prefer washable plates and table service
I was once invited on a picnic by a very elegant woman and her husband. As she unloaded the basket, she took out fine china and stainless steel forks and spoons. Not silver, she wasn’t that elegant.
It seemed very odd at the time, and she certainly was no environmentalist. Eating off nice table service is just, well, nicer. As long as you have to put all the leftovers and containers back in the picnic basket, you might as well put the dishes back, too. Loading the dishwasher is not a major chore—not any more than emptying the trash.Think of the landfill space you’re not using and the money you’re not putting in the trash.
11. Use a handkerchief instead of tissue
You can use a tissue only once, and you have to carry around a box or package, too. More paper. Use a cloth handkerchief multiple times a day and then put it in the laundry hamper. If you’re worried about germs, you know you should wash your hands frequently—whether you use up paper and have to find where to put it or you use a handkerchief.
12. Use your printer as little as possible
The promise of the paperless society was mostly the promise of the paperless office. Amazing how many people print out emails. We use as much office-type paper now as we did before we had email and hard drives, if not more.
You can eliminate quite a lot of wastepaper by choosing not to print something. If you need to print an email or print from a web site, look for the “printer friendly” option. That way you’ll print only the information you need, and not all the stuff in the sidebars, the ads, and other wasters of paper and ink. You can also choose black and white for most print jobs.
Many modern printers make it fairly easy to print on both sides of the paper. You use half as much paper per print job that way.
By using these first dozen tips, you have greatly reduced the amount of paper you have to deal with, but you haven’t eliminated it entirely. So the second of the recycling 3 Rs is “reuse.” Just as “reduce” comes before “reuse,” “reuse” comes before recycling.
13. Donate magazines when you are finished with them
When you’ve finished reading a magazine, someone else might appreciate reading it. You can collect magazines and give them to a nursing home, for example.
14., Use the back of paper printed on one side for notes
Use a notebook if you need to keep the notes. Otherwise, use scrap paper.
Even if you always print in duplex mode, you will get plenty of mail that you have to read printed on one side of a page.
So keep that paper around and reach for it when you need to write notes.
15. Use the smallest piece of paper you can
The standard paper size in the US is 8½ x 11. Chances are you don’t need that much when you write yourself a note. You can, if you want, cross out a short note and put the paper back on the stack for the next note.
Or you can cut your scrap paper into smaller sizes and use them. Either way, you get maximum use from each sheet of paper.
16. Write shopping lists across the card
Whenever you read anything about “green” grocery shopping or money management, a standard piece of advice is to make a list. Most likely you’ll write it on paper.
You can, of course, buy pads of small paper for that purpose, or you can use the small sheets you cut for yourself. I used to work in libraries and accumulated what I hope is a lifetime supply of catalog cards and other 3 x 5 inch cards.
I used to make a list by writing one item on a line, one under another. But that means throwing out the list with plenty of room on the righthand side of the card. So I started writing my lists across the card. I scratch off each item I put in the cart. When I get home, I put the card back in the magnetized clip on the refrigerator and keep using it until it’s full.
There are stores I don’t shop at regularly and don’t buy very much at them in any case. I can use the same card for lists of what to get for a month or more.
17. Don’t take note paper to the library
Or anywhere else you’re likely to find a copier. There is always a recycling container near the printer. It’s free note paper. Use it.
Once you’ve reduced and reused, the only thing left to do with wastepaper is recycle it. Recycling doesn’t just mean sorting trash into two different containers and taking them to the curb. Your municipality will sell what it collects to companies who will use it to make new products. And so finally,
18. Buy recycled paper
Recycled paper for printers and copiers used to be horrid gray stuff that jammed the machines. It was brittle and deteriorated quickly. Not any more. You can find paper made from 100% post-consumer waste that’s every bit as good as paper made from cutting down trees.
It’s a little more expensive. Why? For one thing, people haven’t gotten in the habit of buying it. It stays longer on the store shelves. Stores have to charge more for products that move more slowly. When most people prefer recycled paper to virgin paper, it will become the less expensive.
If you must use paper towels, try recycled ones. Even self-cleaning ovens need to be wiped out, and the ash will likely ruin a cloth. Try recycled toilet paper, too. I confess I haven’t. I bought jumbo packages of paper towels and toilet paper before I became committed to sustainability. I still have enough to last a couple more years.
The first recycled paper towels and toilet paper were every bit as bad as the first recycled office paper. They have probably improved just as much.
So take control of the paper in your house. Don’t let it control you!
Minnesota paper ball. UPI
Waste cardboard. Pixabay
Wastebasket with newspapers. Some rights reserved by waferboard
Paper towels. Some rights reserved by Moms Helping Moms
Good use for the back. Some rights reserved by Sacha Chua
Wastepaper bales. © Copyright Wilson Adams and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence