This post is the beginning of a longer conversation or series about how to reduce paper products in our homes. I have future posts planned less-waste or zero-waste swaps for paper products and about having a better impact in the areas where paper is still a must (ahem… the bathroom…). Let me know in the comments if there’s anything in particular you want me to research/talk about (and make my mom proud by putting my PhD to use).
As a professor, I generated WAY too much paper. Even when I tried to stymie the flow, it seemed that my desk was an endless pile of papers to grade, books or journal articles to read, drafts of papers in progress, and meeting handouts and materials. It was pretty impressive but horrifying at the same time. Whenever possible, I would use electronic means to accept assignments and distribute materials, but sometimes the flow of paper couldn’t be helped. Going through my office when I left full-time employment last year showed me just how much paper I had been hoarding.
Six ways to reduce the amount of paper in your home or office:
Say “no thanks” whenever possible.
You would be amazed by how much paper you can reduce in your space by simply saying no. This can be as simple as saying no to a receipt. Unless you really need the receipt for some reason (for example, some of my favorite rebate apps require me to scan and upload grocery receipts), just decline it. If enough of us say no, stores will start to get the hint. Our local zero waste store only gives two options: emailed receipt or no receipt. I sort of love them for that.
Scan and responsibly dispose of the documents you should keep, but don’t need as a physical copy.
Not all important documents are created equally. Some documents are important for a time, while others you will need to keep forever. The question is: Do you need the document in hard copy? I like the explanation below by Get Buttoned Up. Some documents, like our birth certificates, I keep scanned and in hard copy. Just in case something happens, I want the electronic back-up. Other documents, like our taxes, I only keep in PDF form. I can print them if I need to, but I probably won’t.
Compost paper that you don’t need.
I mention in the previous tip to “responsibly dispose” of your scanned papers that you don’t need. One way to do that is to compost them. It’s no secret that we’re a fan of worm composting. While we started composting to reduce our food waste, there has been the added benefit of reducing paper waste. The worms need both food scraps and bedding to be happy. Bedding could consist of shredded papers or, because we eat lots of eggs, shredded egg cartons. Either way, the worms get what they need and paper products in our home are reduced. I may be guilty of shredding and feeding the occasional student-paper to the worms. (It’s strangely satisfying…)
Reuse what you have when you can.
Despite trying our hardest, some paper still manages to come in. Most commonly, it’s in the form of medical bills that come with their own envelope to return payment. We usually pay those bills online, but I keep the envelope for future use. I don’t send much out in envelopes and having a few around for when I need them comes in handy. Most recently, I mailed our city taxes with saved envelopes. Since it had one of those picture window things, I taped the address to the inside of the envelope. Arts and crafts FTW!
Another way to reuse paper is to use all sides of it. When we get something that only has one side printed, I cut the sheet into quarters and put it on my scrap paper pile. Sometimes I need to write notes to Justin or jot something down while I’m on the phone. Scrap paper works fine here.
Electronic when possible.
It’s amazing how much you can do paperwork-wise via electronic means these days. Our home transactions (the purchase and sale of our prior two homes and the new house we’re building) have all used DocuSign for the preliminary documents. Mortgage documents must be physically signed, so there was paper involved then, but everything else was electronic. The last two leases we’ve signed have gone through DocuSign as well. It heartens me that more paperwork is being done this way.
One well-known source of paper in my home is books. Embracing your public library to rent books or e-books or buying e-books directly is another way to go electronic when possible.
Replace with a less-waste or zero-waste option.
There are less-waste or zero-waste options available for most paper products in our home. For example, we have switched from paper towels to reusable cleaning cloths, from paper napkins to cloth napkins, and from Kleenex to bamboo-based hankies. I’ll write more about these swaps in future posts. The idea here is to do a paper audit and think about what you can replace with something that does the job just as well without the clutter or waste.
What do you think? Are there ways that you reduce paper in your home or office? What did I miss? What will you try?