For Example...Paper Waste
In many offices, paper is among the largest components of the waste stream. It is used at a rate of
nearly 1.5 pounds per person per day, according to a study done by the City of Los Angeles.
Despite the widely touted idea of the “paperless office” brought about by widespread computerization,
paper consumption in the US is rising, in large part because of the ease of reproducing information
with computer printers and high-speed photocopiers.
All of this paper consumption has a signif icant environmental impact, not only in the waste it generates
but also in the natural resources and energy used and the air and water pollution created by
its manufacture, its recycling, and its disposal.
The typical office paper, says Bruce Nordman, a researcher at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories, has a
20-pound basis weight and is 8.5 x 11 inches in size; a ton comprises nearly 200,000 sheets, with
100 sheets in a pound and about 6 per ounce. At 500 sheets and 5 pounds per ream, 400 reams
of such paper equal a ton.
The costs of any “paper-using activity” include buying the paper as well as photocopying, viewing,
transporting (i.e., mailing/faxing), storing, and disposing of it. Hence, Nordman says, if a business
spends $1,000 per ton of paper — that is, $2.50 per ream or .05 cent per sheet — and if a
worker earning $12 per hour spends 30 seconds handling each sheet, its paper-handling costs will
be roughly 10 cents per sheet or $20,000 per ton. Some money may be saved later on by having
the paper waste recycled; otherwise, disposing of it in a landfill or incinerator will cost anywhere
from $50 to $100 per ton or more, depending on where the business is located.
Nordman’s estimates show that these costs add up. In fact, he calculates that the cost per ton of
handling paper — and thus the savings generated from not using it — are 20 times the cost of
purchasing it and 200 times the cost of throwing it away.
In general, the goal in a business’s office area should be to avoid using paper by substituting electronic
technology or face-to-face communication whenever possible. To foster an environment where
waste prevention is valued, include paper use reduction practices in an employee orientation guide
or handbook. Promote a “think before you copy” attitude by asking employees to consider
whether a paper copy is really needed and to estimate their needs carefully before printing.
Most strategies to reduce paper waste fall into one of three, sometimes overlapping, categories:
- Eliminating paper use entirely — communicating by e-mail instead of by interoffice memo or
replacing printed documents with on-line postings
- Reducing paper use whenever possible — distributing documents to fewer people, cleaning up
mailing lists, or eliminating unnecessary business forms
- Using paper more efficiently — making double-sided copying the norm or condensing documents
so they use less space on a page