Economics, Finance, General ramblings, Paper Waste, Social Cause, Thoughts

Stop Wasting So Much of Paper

Every day, I receive large quantities of junk by mail that in addition to filling my mail box, also annoys me because I have to throw so much paper into my waste basket. Top junk mail senders are grocery stores such as Walmart, department stores like JC Penney, Macy’s, Bed Bath & Beyond and various credit card companies such as Capital One, Citibank and Chase. According to this article, an average person receives only 1.5 personal letters every week (so true) and about 10.8 pieces of junk mail.

More than 100 million trees’ worth of bulk mail arrives in American mail boxes each year – that’s the equivalent of deforesting the entire Rocky Mountain National Park every four months. (New AmericanDream calculation from Conservatree and U.S. Forest Service statistics)

My main gripe here is with paper wastage and not junk mail. I find it easier to tolerate such promotional e-mails because I can clean my inbox in 30 seconds. It only consumes my time and some electricity, whereas, cleaning junk mail consumes much more. Also, I don’t think many people use those “Return Envelopes” that come along with them. How many of us still mail our checks? It takes ages and costs much more. I don’t buy stamps and keep in my house. It’s preferable for me to call them up directly and pay my bill or better, just log into my account and pay using my credit card. Every single day, half of my trash can gets filled with only junk mails. This is one of the reasons I detest checking my mail box.

It wastes 28 billion gallons of water for paper processing each year. If you cut your bulk mail for 5 years, you’ll conserve 1.7 trees, 700 gallons of water and prevent 460 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the air. 40% of the solid mass that makes up our landfills is paper and paperboard waste. By the year 2010, it is predicted to make up about 48%.

There are many ways of reducing the quantity of junk mail. You can call up credit card companies and opt out of pre-screened offers, sign up for electronic bills instead of paper bills, paste a note on your mail box saying “NO junk mails”. Some of these mails are quite amusing. Today, I received a mail by the US Navy telling me that they would pay for my tuition fees, regular stipend of around $4,000 per month and lots of other perks, only if I join them. This is another great website that tells you how you can make a couple of phone calls to telemarketers and credit score agencies such as Experion and find out more about the whole issue and hopefully, reduce some paper waste.

We waste a lot of paper in the office too. Let’s consider a typical office desk: 2-3 different kinds of Post-Its, A Big Legal Pad, A Small Pad, Manila Folders, Hanging Folders, colored paper, 2-3 kinds of envelopes, and then you have the devilish laser or ink jet printer! Do we really need all this? As the development of a country increases, the waste produced by the country also increases. A typical office produces about 1.5 pounds of paper waste per employee per day. The waste increases to 2 pounds in financial services industry. Every recycled ton of paper saves about 17 trees and 462 gallons of oil. If you’re interested in more statistics and ways to reduce paper waste, then take a look at this article.

I used to work for this Professor last semester who was a little “technologically challenged”. He would e-mail me whenever he had some work and also leave the same message in my office in paper. Doesn’t make any sense to me. Every morning, I would arrive at my office, find at least 5-6 sheets of high quality office paper, with a measly 5-6 sentences typed on them. I would try to use these papers for scratch work because I really dislike wasting paper. After some time, I got fed up. Finally, what did I do? Throw them into the bin. Have you seen the number of fliers that you get in colored paper that nobody even bothers to read? Why do people still do that? I’m sure those who make those flyers also know that nobody will want them in their mail box. So, why not just stop it?

Maneka Gandhi, because of her love for animals, had also appealed to reduce the waste of paper because more forests get cut. I also read somewhere on the Internet that Mahatma Gandhi believed in the reduction of paper waste and he would write on even the smallest bits of paper. Plus, he encouraged the use of hand made paper because it reduces the harmful chemicals that are released into the environment and also provides employment. I think handmade paper is more of a novelty now and is used only for greeting cards and decorative purposes.

In India, I had never used paper for cleaning kitchen and ovens and refrigerators. But in the US, people buy big rolls of kitchen towels for cleaning purposes. It’s more convenient and hassle free. Just wipe and throw! It took me quite some time to get used to it. I’m still not happy about it and try to use some kind of cloth to reduce the paper waste.

Even in malls and department stores, all those paper bags…are they really helping the entire matter? Most of them are not even recycled. There is a myth regarding recycled paper that they are not as good. Recycled paper have only about 10% market share. Here, in the University, we had an intra-college competition in this regard. The Department that recycled the most and also consumed the least amount of paper was declared the winner and all the employees were given free lunches and tokens.

By the way, United States is the largest user of paper in the entire world and surpasses the second largest user, Japan, by 25%. You’ve got to be here to really believe it.

So, what do I do to reduce the paper waste?

1. Print on both sides

2. Always adjust the font size to see if it helps in using less paper.

3. Make sure that the document is final and error-free.

4. Minimize the use of Post-Its and other fancy items.

5. Re-use badly printed documents as scratch paper.

6. Called up those agencies to reduce the junk mail.

I found this slide show on the Internet:

If you read this post, and stop and think the next time before you waste some paper, then I’ll believe that I’ve achieved something. By the way, does anyone have any opinions on the use of toilet paper? 🙂

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26 thoughts on “Stop Wasting So Much of Paper

  1. You’re absolutely correct about this. What I feel is that we as students, waste the maximum amount of paper. We buy books, use them and when we go in the next class, we through them away. We buy notebooks and throw them away when that subject is over even if half of the notebook is empty. I’ve always tried to use my notebooks till the time it’s possible. I even write on the covers so that when I finally discard a register, I’ve taken all that is possible outside. I don’t know if these companies which say that their registers are made out of recycled paper actually do it. Still I buy them even though they’re a little expensive, but at least I have a kind of satisfaction that I’ve done my bit. And those advertisements are simply annoying but you can’t really stop the companies from doing it. Their logic is that even if 1 out of every 100 people reads those pamphlets, their purpose is served.

  2. This is a great post Ruhi.
    India is gradually changing. In malls today you get these reams of paper for use and throw purposes. But thankfully only a very tiny number of people are actually buying these things but I fear it’s going to change.
    I use an old sock by the way to clean my kitchen. It’s excellent as it doesn’t collect much grease and you can throw it away after a while.
    btw, you forgot to mention toilet paper. 🙂 I guess it’s considered essential in the developed but the majority of Indians use their hands! 🙂 There is a middle path but if I talk about it in detail here you site could get rated ‘R’ !

  3. @ish:

    You know what I do? I buy loose punch holed sheets of paper and put them in 3 ring binders. This way, I don’t need to carry so many notebooks. Also, it tremendously helps me in reducing the wastage of paper. As a kid, I remember tearing all unused pages at the end of all notebooks and getting them bound into a new book that could be used for Maths and other home assignments 🙂

    You’ve made a very interesting point about the recycled paper. I admire you for buying these books and supporting the cause. If more people start behaving like you, then the costs of these books will reduce and more factories that make recycled paper will be able to stay in business. There is a big lack of awareness in this regard.

    About the ad part, yes…I know everything is so commercial. You think all that cutting of trees is justifiable just in the hope of gaining some potential customers?

    @Karuna Agarwal,

    Hi Mom 🙂 Thank you for commenting on my blog for the first time. It means a lot to me.


    Even I remember seeing an old sock in my kitchen in India for cleaning purposes. A sock is very easy to use and can be thrown away with little guilt. Probably I should try doing that here too. The funny thing is that I did use a small napkin in my initial days, but my friends over powered me and made me use kitchen towels to make me more Americanized. But even now, I get annoyed when they throw a kitchen towel which can probably be reused again.

    The last line of my post actually alludes to the use of toilet paper. I was hoping that someone would talk about it. I think I know the middle path you’re talking about. The use of a small shower next to the pot, right? 🙂 I don’t really mind if my blog gets rated “R”. I have previously used profanities in a Harry Potter post after I got done reading the 7th book and felt unsatisfied. Do you support the use of toilet paper?

  4. Well, from our point of view, it is wastage of paper but for the person who’s advertising, even if one person comes out of those pamphlets, it’s profit. It’s just that they need to realize it before it gets too late.

  5. nikhilkumar says:

    I’ll give an interesting piece of statistic. There’re around 500 students who take print outs everyday from the library printers here at SUNY Buffalo, and each time they print something out, there’s an additional sheet of paper that comes out with just their name on it, so that they can be piled in order by the guys who organize the print out stations. I don’t know how it works in your university, but here, by 10 am, the recycle bins are overflowing with these name sheets. Pains me to see that
    True, it probably going to be recycled, but what’s the point when the harm’s already done??

  6. good post!!!

    I work for HSBC and we have been informed about PAPER/ELECTRICITY usage on dashboards and in some welcome kits.
    They are doing their best to awaken the employees…Still it hurts to see junk of A4 size paper..left abandoned near printer’s.People dont use it efficiently,as its the company who is paying.

    Still we have seen better results.More ppl are now aware of paper wastage..and about the toilet paper,its the concept of the west. 🙂

    In india…ppl still use hand towel after toilet/food … its only in these MNC’s/Resturants/fast food where paper’s are used which is quite right as in such scenarios a towel cant solve the problem..

  7. @Nikhil,

    Yes, we do that too, though not in the library. I have seen the labs in Residence Halls do that. They print a cover sheet that has the student ID of the person who took the print out. This is what happens when a country has too many resources. 🙂

    @Nitin, It’s good to know that HSBC is taking such an initiative. Other companies that pops to my mind are Adobe (they have spent millions trying to make their headquarters more green- reduction of water usage in flushing toilets, electricity etc.) and Starbucks (the paper cups are, as far as I can remember, made of more than 50% recycled paper).

    All, I’m tired of using paper for wiping my hands in restaurants and in the RESTROOM! ( I forgot about this point in the post). Paper towels seem to be the norm here and the use of an electric dryer for hands seems to be an exception. Also, companies like Kleenex waste way too much of paper. I don’t think people in India use so much of paper tissues for cold, cough etc.

  8. Oh, I missed that last line of yours!
    Well, I you guessed right. I meant bidet! It’s difficult to say that using toilet paper should stop as at times it’s very useful. But the problem is wastage. One should use it judiciously! And I have seen some recycled paper being used for toilet paper.

    So the word is ‘bidet’. Thanks 🙂


  9. @Ruhi: A very well written post… and you are doing a great cause, by bringing forward such an important issue…Way to go girl 🙂 Somehow I have always been finicky about paper wastage, thanks to a more finicky friend who detests paper wastage… he even abhors using post-it notes carelessly…and when asked to take a printout, he will make sure, he covers at least 4 pages in one sheet of paper – ya the last one is a little annoying when u have to squint ur eyes to read the damn thing…

    You point about toilet paper is quite valid. I think its a real waste of paper, specially since people recklessly use it… U know my office peole here in HK, have deliberately removed the napkin stack and put up a hand-drier instead. And a sign board there says – “You are helping to save 13 lakh trees that are cut to make these napkins”. I found one lady the other day, using toilet paper to wipe her hands and i could not help but cringe. Did she not read the notice, or does she not care!?????

  10. Broom says:

    i keep a recycle bin near my post box. all the junk mail goes straight into it. i also am a recycle-nazi at work and force people to put the waste in recycle bins.

  11. @Nova:

    Using a hand drier is a very good initiative. I totally support that cause. Moreover, those paper towels make my hands dry, may be because my skin is too sensitive.

    Probably that woman doesn’t care! I find many such examples every day and it’s just painful 😦

    @Broom, You go girl! 🙂 I’m really impressed.

  12. Totally agree – the barrage of unsolicited and unwanted flyers and junkmail we get every week makes email spam look pretty innocent. And I get to cart it all off to the recycle bin regularly. But simple notices on the mail box don’t work – the kids they hire to deliver seem to get paid by the amount they deliver. So they wind up on the sidewalk, blowing all over the neighborhood. Almost needing a bylaw to bring it under control?

  13. @Garnet, Thank you for stopping by! I like your take on the kids who deliver flyers. I never thought about from that angle. The entire system needs to be fixed.

    A bylaw regarding the distribution of junk mail and flyers would be quite effective. The courts should be able to regulate the quantity of paper that a company can use for such purposes. 🙂

  14. true!… my company sends a few million direct mailers every year…. this year they did a huge ‘green’ direct mail campaign where they gave away a few $’s to some NGO! oh the irony of it 😦

  15. listen ruhi dosent getting mail make u feel special …imagine opening ur mailbox again and again and there it was soo empty how would u fee 🙂
    junk mail is the governmenets way to keep everyone feeling wanted

  16. Pingback: Stop Wasting So Much Time » Barbara Chavez

  17. Sometimes I spend all day ordering catalogs online. When I get them I just toss them in the trash without looking at them. When the flow of catalogs slows down, I do it again. I wish I could get trash all of the time. I really dont think trees and water is gong to run out for a long long time.

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