When I was a kid I remember the excitement when the school year was about to start because it was the time to buy school supplies. Oh my, it was better than Christmas, it was a super special day for me: the rush of getting new stuff combined with my love for stationary.

I have vivid memories going to the shop, which was usually the biggest in town, browsing the aisles full of colourful notebooks, folders, books, crayons, such a magical place. Even a brand new binder caused excitement. And of course I remember getting back home with a big plastic bag full of supplies ready to take it all out and have a another look. I had a particular fascination for notebooks, which I often personalised with photos from old books or magazines before the start of the year.

Today my love for a stationary especially paper is still present, I love books, journals, notebooks and I still enjoying going to these shops and browsing all these beautiful products however I am more aware and I have greater appreciation for paper and where it comes from.

We all know paper comes from trees and they are logged all around the world for wood. The issue is that in many places, especially in developing countries, trees are logged illegally and forests are being destroyed rapidly and with it other species. This is also bad news for us and the environment, as these trees absorb the CO2 that is released into the atmosphere combating climate change.

According to National Geographic:

“The world’s rain forests could completely vanish in a hundred years at the current rate of deforestation”

Of course this is only part of the story, because that wood has to be transported long distances (using of fossil fuels and releasing CO2) to reach the places where the raw material has to be processed (consuming big amounts of electricity) using toxic chemicals (which are released in the air) and massive amount of water. Once the end product is ready (this industry also generates a lot of waste which end up in landfill) has to be shipped again long distances (think CO2 again).

So the production of this humble and lovely material can cause deforestation, pollution and it consumes massive amount of precious resources. My goal today is to discuss some simple solutions that we can all implement to reduce paper use and make better choices.

1. Books

Every time we buy a new physical book we increase the demand on paper and let’s be honest how often do you re-read the books you own? probably not many. For those books that you do, then it is cool to have them in your bookcase, available 24/7 but for the rest probably not. If you are an avid reader then here are some options to evaluate:

  • e-Readers: I know there is nothing like holding a beautiful book in your hands, but electronic readers are a great option to reduce paper consumption. They can hold hundreds of book in one spot and usually the battery last long time.
  • Audio-books:  These are great especially for commuting or exercising.  I listen to these books relatively fast (I increase the playing speed too) so that’s an added benefit if you want to learn about a particular subject really quickly.
  • Libraries: This is my preferred option. I go there almost every week to borrow books – luckily it’s not that far from my place. It is amazing the amount of books local libraries can offer. And if you want to read a book that is not in the catalogue often you can contact the library and request it. Yes, they’ll buy it new for you, but this book will be used for hundreds of users in many years to come.

2. Yellow Pages

Nowadays thanks to Internet, these books have become almost obsolete. They are huge and the worse part is that they are often delivered by default. I think that maybe some people leaving in remote areas without internet access and some senior people might still be using them but for the rest of us is just a terrible waste of paper.

Luckily in some countries they are starting to phase them out (in its physical form) but if you still receive these books a simple thing you can do today is to opt-out. When we moved into this house I forgot to register the address and one day I came back home to find 2 of these in my front door.

Yellow and White Pages

Yellow and White Pages

If you live in Australia click here to opt-out.  For people in other countries I found similar websites:

New Zealand

Google “Yellow Pages Opt-out” in your country.

3. Paperless receipts and statements

Most banks and providers give you the option to switch to online statements/receipts which is a great way to save paper and you have access to these documents using your personal account.

I do understand some people prefer paper to archive them in folders but the same can be done digitally. If you don’t want to access the website every time you need these files, simply create a folder in your computer and every month when you receive the email/notification download them there. Everything will be organised and easy to find using this system. Give it a go and change your subscriptions.

Other ways to avoid receipts:

  • Some companies like the post office give you the option to send you the receipt to your email when you pay using their machines. Take advantage of this alternative.
  • When paying in the shops, ask for “no receipt”. Often we don’t use them so it is a resource wasted.
  • Skip the ATM receipt unless you really need it.
  • Although not very practical, paying in cash helps you avoid the machine receipt.

On a side note, majority of receipts are coated in plastic (it is called thermal paper) and one of the toxic chemicals in that mixture is BPA which has been linked to hormone disruption and other illnesses. Studies are now finding that we are absorbing this substance when we handle all those receipts on daily basis (read more).

Best way to identify this type of paper is to scratch it with your finger nail, it leaves a black trace behind:

Thermal paper

Identifying thermal paper receipts

This type of paper which is quite common in most cases is not recyclable, so please check with your council first and do not throw them into the recycling bin as they only contaminate recycled paper.

Reducing our exposure to these chemicals while saving the planet sounds like a great deal to me!

4. Go reusable

We consume paper in so many disposable products which are used sometimes seconds and then they’re thrown away. These products can be easily replaced by reusable options:

  • Tissues travel packs: these are so common, apart from the fact that they are disposable,  they are usually wrapped in plasticHankies are a great alternative, old fashion you might say, but equally effective.
  • Kitchen paper towels: My replacement for these ones are old towel rags which I cut in smaller pieces and stored in a ceramic jar. I mainly use these when I have accidents in the kitchen. For regular cleaning I have a cotton towel which does the job. I have to admit it took me a while to give up kitchen paper towels and now I don’t even understand why I was afraid of getting rid of them in the first place, I don’t miss them at all!
Kitchen rags

Kitchen rags

  • Serviettes/napkins: in the same way restaurants use fabric napkins you can also buy or make some and use everyday at home. I use mine a couple of times (as they are big and stay quite clean) and then keep them with other reusable items such as produce and fabric bags, tea towels, kitchen rags and then when I have enough I use a short cycle in the washing machine to keep them clean.

Another thing to be mindful is our habits and attitude toward these disposable paper products. Often in restaurants I see people grabbing literally a stack of serviettes, they end up using a couple and then the rest are all wasted. Similar story in public toilets, people wash their hand and grab +4 paper towels when 1 is enough.

And I understand is just lack of awareness, but it is something important to keep in mind and adjust. And if you need inspiration watch this TED:

5. Printing

At school and work is quite common that we need printing, sometimes is unavoidable, but there are few things you can do:

  • If the printing is just for your personal use, reuse paper sheets that still have a clean side (e.g. unimportant letters you receive in the mailbox). I keep two drawers of paper for printing and one is only for used paper.
  • If you need to print something in unused paper sheets, buy 100% recycled paper. It is not hard to find.
  • Try to print “double-sided” or at least 2 pages per paper sheet.
  • In your Word editor use “Narrow” margins to reduce the number of pages you need to print.

6. Buy certified, recycled or tree-free toilet paper

When you go to the supermarket the toilet paper options are endless, so other than price there are few things to consider:

  • Some brands have serious certifications such as Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) which ensure the product is environmentally responsible. Look for the tree logo.

  • Opt for recycled toilet paper. Some brands are quite good, maybe not as incredible soft but hey, we can all do small sacrifices.
  • Try Bamboo or tree-free toilet paper. Bamboo is fast growing plant and requires less water than trees to grow. It seems it is a more efficient way to produce the paper, therefore better for the environment.

7. Junk Mail

Junk mail is annoying and generates so much waste. The best way I have found to deal with this issue is to place a ‘No Junk Mail’ sticker in the letter box, although it doesn’t work 100% of the times, it reduces a lot the amount of junk mail.  The more people using these stickers, the less the demand on new material to create new flyers or catalogues.

In Australia the Distribution Standard Board provides 1 free sticker when you send them stamped return addressed envelope. Follow the link for more information.

Another good action to take if you live in Australia is to complete “Do Not Mail Register Form” with ADMA. Again won’t stop everything but the idea is to at least reduce. Complete the form here.

Check what’s available in your country to stop junk mail, it is worth it!

8. Recycle

Last but not least recycle paper. Ideally we want to reduce paper consumption but recycling is also important.  According to the Australia Recycling Sector Report in 2012:

Waste paper is a much more cost effective raw material input than manufacturing using virgin materials e.g. wood chips. A paper mill that uses recycled pulp is also less capital intensive than a mill that uses only virgin materials to manufacture products.

Some general tips about recycling paper:

  • Include old magazines, catalogues, unwanted mail, brochures, paper bags and wrapping. Also food boxes such as the ones containing crackers, cereals, tea etc.
  • Remove any other material adhered to the item that is not paper, such as plastic or metallic pieces.
  • Boxes often must me flattened or split apart in smaller pieces.
  • Some paper types are often not recyclable as thermal paper (as discussed before), waxed paper and carbon paper. Always check with your local council.

Hope you have found some tips to reduce paper usage Please leave a comment below and tell me: which of these solutions are you ready to implement today? Do you have any tip to reduce or reuse paper?

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Thanks for reading,