Thursday, June 4, 2009

Paper Chase

There's a lot of buzz about creating a paperless office. The idea is nice: why waste paper on documents and records, when electronic versions of the same documents cost less and don't kill trees? Unfortunately, it's taking us a while to get there. Paper use more than doubled between 1980 and 2000, as computers made printing easier. Instead of buying a book at a local bookstore, where the book was shipped in a crate with dozens of others like it, we order books online, necessitating separate packaging and invoicing. We print out multiple drafts of documents, justifying the waste by promising to recycle the discarded versions. There is visible improvement in some areas, though. While our pediatrician's office still sends out paper billing statements, its medical record system is completely electronic. Churches and other nonprofits are wising up to the high cost of printing, and they are creating e-mail newsletters and reusable service bulletins. Law firms and closing agents still must print real estate closing documents for recording in court records, and when there is a mortgage involved, those documents are voluminous. But, mortgage lenders are figuring out ways to send electronic closing packages to avoid shipping the documents for closing.

Of course, saving paper means saving costs. These are some small ways that we reduce our paper consumption at home.

  • Reuse everything. I can't remember the last time I wrote a grocery list or a phone message on a virgin sheet of paper, rather than on the back of an envelope or a piece of scratch paper.
  • When paper contains confidential material, shred it and use it for kindling (for the fireplace or charcoal grill) or for mulch.
  • Newspapers can be used for cleaning windows before recycling them. I'm also told that newspapers make good mulch for gardens.
  • Use Catalog Choice to reduce the number of catalogs you receive in the mail.
  • Sign up for electronic statements with your bank and investment services. Often, this choice comes with benefits from the bank, as they are saving printing and postage costs.
  • Consider using electronic documents for household needs: recipes, budget spreadsheets, etc. I have a friend who keeps a running list of questions for her pediatrician on her Blackberry, rather than on paper.
  • Use cloth napkins and reusable cloth rags for cleaning to reduce paper towel consumption.
  • Purchase used books or magazines when available. Instead of sending magazines directly to the recycling bin, try selling them at a used book store, or offer them to a friend for reading before recycling.

Edited to add:

How could I forget? We get paper bags at the grocery store when we forget our reusable bags (for shame - it happens all too often!), or when our grocery order fills all the bags we have with us. I use the paper bags for recycling that does not fit into our two bins, and now I'm saving paper bags for our church book sale. Plastic shopping bags are reused as small garbage can liners and dog poop scoopers.

1 comment:

  1. I am a big fan of 'going paperless'. I generally have my laptop with me and much prefer pdfs or word docs - they are easier for me to file and generally keep track of - I loose less in the shuffle. I can also view most things through my iPhone - always reducing the amount of paper I acutally use.
    In order for all of this to make a difference one must also be savy about how much energy is used in viewing things electronically as well.
    Given my situation - my computer is on when I am working - it is more efficient to use these things electronically - if you have to turn a computer on to view stuff it becomes more questionable. I guess generally being aware and striking some balance is the best way to go.