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Paper Cut Featured on May 30, 2008
Are you an office printaholic? This month, make it your goal to print less. Cut paper consumption by 25%. We'll show you how.
Reduce your printing a little per day, or go cold-turkey for 5 days to reduce monthly CO2 by 7.6 lbs.
5242 people have reduced CO2 emissions by 18.65 tons by completing this challenge so far. That's equal to turning off the electricity of 21 homes for about 1 month!
Sometimes you just need to print something. Take me, for instance. I’m a writer. And even though I write, edit, and submit articles via computer, there are times when I feel a deep, primal need to print out something I’m writing. That paper comes out of the laser printer all warm and crisp. You can touch it. You can hold it. You can shake it at somebody or fold it into an airplane. It’s real. Sigh. I’m Andrew. And I’m a printoholic.
This Featured Challenge comes from our Challenge Workshop and was suggested by Carbon Clique. This suggestion has received a whopping 38 positive votes to date. Clearly this is an idea long overdue in becoming a Challenge! Thanks, CC! And kudos to Alex for the related suggestion of switching to recycled paper for printing.
The Carbon Connection
According to a Worldwatch Institute report, the United States consumes 30 percent of the world’s paper. Of that paper, about one third is used for writing (pads or stationery) or for printing (office/home printers and copiers). From 1980 to 2000, the consumption of this high-quality paper increased at a much greater rate than that of newsprint or cardboard. Clearly there is no such thing as a paperless office.
Manufacturing paper requires energy. That paper starts as a tree. The tree gets harvested, transported some distance to a plant to get sliced up into chips. Those wood chips are then transported to a pulp mill, which can be thousands of miles away. At the pulp mill, the wood chips are ground into pulp, which gets bleached and washed and sent to the paper mill to be made into paper. Eventually, the paper is cut into the right size sheets for your laser printer, packaged, and then shipped — again, maybe thousands of miles — to your local office store.
Why the lesson on paper production? Well, everyone needs to think about the lifecycle of the products they use. Manufactured goods are made from raw materials that take energy to acquire. Each step in the manufacturing process takes energy and so does transporting goods from the factory to stores and then to your office or home. That energy most likely comes from the burning of fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide into Earth’s atmosphere. That’s why the more paper you use, the more carbon dioxide gets produced.
Getting It Done
Need help meeting this Challenge? Here are a few simple suggestions:
- Start with trying to reduce the number of things you print or photocopy. Think twice before you hit that print button. Is there a good reason to print this? Is there a better way to print this?
- If you are printing a document to review, edit, or make comments, make them on-screen instead. You can do this with the “Track changes” and “Insert comments” features in Microsoft Word. Speaking of Word, another way to get more words on a page (and therefore use less paper when you finally print) is to decrease your font size and change Word’s “generous” default margins so that there isn’t as much white space surrounding your text.
- If you have to print, take charge. Tell your printer to print on both sides of the paper. Not all laser printers can do this; ink jet printers can’t do it at all. Check to see if your printer has a two-side printing (often called “Duplex”) option. If your eyes are good and you don’t mind small type, you could also try “two-up” printing where the printer prints two reduced pages on one side of a sheet. Finally, some printers have a booklet setting which prints two-up pages on both sides of the paper, effectively giving you four pages on one sheet of paper — a 75% reduction!
- Use the print preview so you don’t get surprises or print blank pages. And only print the pages you need from a long report, not the entire report.
- Don’t print out emails to archive if you have an option to store old emails in an electronic archive. For example, there’s software available that can turn your old email folders into HTML pages suitable for burning to a CD.
- Reuse the paper if you can. Keep a stack of old one-sided printouts nearby for when you need to scrap paper to take notes or doodle. Once you’ve used both sides of the paper, then you can recycle it.
- Not all paper is the same. More and more, you should be able to find inexpensive printer and copier paper that contains pulp from recycled paper, often referred to as post-consumer or recycled content. The more post-consumer fiber used in paper, the less carbon dioxide is released in the paper’s manufacture. Reducing the amount of paper you use is the best place to start. But you can reduce your carbon dioxide emissions even more by increasing your use of paper with post-consumer fiber. Start with a minimum of 30% recycled material and see how it goes.
Do you have other ways of taming your office’s paper tiger? Scribble them down on a scrap piece of paper and then share your stories with your fellow Rallyers in the Challenge Discussion section below.
Rules of the Challenge
This Challenge is aimed at our office and small business Rallyers. Typically, offices are the biggest users of paper. An average of your use with that of a student or a small family wouldn’t be meaningful. (And honestly, we currently don’t have estimates for paper usage by these other groups.) We will try to get a version of this Challenge written and published that works for our non-office members.
This Challenge asks you reduce your use of paper for printing or photocopying by 25% for one month. It doesn’t matter how you do it. Don’t print anything at all for five work days this month. Print or copy on both sides of the paper whenever you can. Decide not to print emails unless absolutely necessary. Proofread your papers on the computer and not on paper. By cutting back on your use of paper, you will reduce your CO2 emissions by 7.6 lbs for the month. This Challenge lasts for one month and is repeatable.
See the Math
Let’s look at what we do know. Here are our known or estimated numbers and assumptions:
- According to the Worldwatch Institute report above, the average American office worker uses 12,000 sheets of paper per year or 1000 sheets per month. A package of paper is called a ream and has 500 sheets of paper. So, the average office worker is using 2 reams of paper each month. Not all of that paper use is under your control. You can only affect your own printing and copying behavior. So we’re going to cut that number in half and assign an average paper use of 1 ream per month to everybody.
- Not all paper is the same. More and more, paper is being sold that contains recycled paper, often referred to as post-consumer fiber. The more post-consumer fiber used in paper, the less carbon dioxide is released in the paper’s manufacture. Paper that has no post-consumer fiber (100% virgin paper) is responsible for 7.1 pounds of CO2 being released for every pound of paper produced. Paper with 33% post-consumer fiber is 6.1 pounds of CO2 released per pound of paper and 50% post-consumer fiber is 5.5 pounds. We are going to assume that you are using paper with some post-consumer fiber and go with the 6.1 pounds CO2 per pound of paper number.
- One ream of typical multi-purpose copy paper, suitable for laser printers or copy machines, weighs very close to 5 pounds.
Now put all that together to get the following equation:
- Therefore, each ream of copy paper used is responsible for 30.5 pounds of released CO2. Reduce your use of paper by just one quarter this month and save 7.6 pounds of CO2 (30.5 pounds of CO2 divided by 4).
Remember, recycling your office paper is good. But reducing the amount of paper you use to begin with is even better. (And yes, that does mean you can’t make a paper airplane out of any sheet that hasn’t been used on both sides.) You’ll save money, reduce carbon — and maybe even prevent a nasty papercut or two. Do Rallyers bleed green?
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