26% of total waste in landfills is paper waste; here’s how to cut down yours

read | September 15, 2021

The holiday season is over and everybody is “back to school” or work. Do you really need to buy that brand new notebook, or do you have half-used notebooks lying around? Starting fresh is always a good feeling, but have you ever considered other options to cutting down how much paper and money you spend on fresh or brand new papery goods.

Contrary to popular opinion, paper waste is still a vast environmental problem. There are plenty of reasons why so many of us stick to paper; for example, we like the tactile feel of it, it gives our eyes a rest from bright screens, or perhaps we just like the feel of taking handwritten notes. We get it; paper is great, but that’s precisely why we need to use it responsibly, especially considering how much paper production and its disposal is harming our environment.

Allow us to run you through some facts and helpful hints to help you curtail your paper consumption habits. 

Paper waste is a problem.

You might be wondering, but isn’t all paper recyclable? No. It’s not, which is a part of the reason why so much ends up in landfills. Paper that is coated in plastic, foil or wax cannot be recycled, so don’t put it in the recycling; it clogs the recycling system. Also, at home, don’t recycle any dirty paper that contains food waste or paint. Here is a list of paper types you can recycle.

So, despite technology moving in as a backbone to how we carry out our day to day, paper is still very much a part of our lives, especially if you consider that 26% of total waste in landfills is paper waste. Further, the sobering truth about paper production is that its entire life cycle is damaging to the environment from start to finish; for example, carbon dioxide (C02) is emitted into the atmosphere through deforestation. Additionally, the process is water and chemically intensive, and transport and distribution consume a large number of carbon emissions. Even in the eventual end of life paper, it’s burned, emitting further C02. 

Deforestation is perhaps one of the most concerning aspects of paper production as over two million trees are cut down for global paper consumption daily. Annually a total of eight billion trees are cut down for all our full consumerist needs. This has massive impacts on animals loss of habitat and ecosystems. But deforestation affects us all as trees and forests are a huge part of what sustains our world; without them, we are in for some severe natural disasters, many the western world is beginning to experience, including the recent fires in Greece, Italy, California and flooding in Germany.

Some of the ways forests keep us safe. 

  • They sequester up to 150 kilograms of carbon dioxide annually; currently, the world’s forests store an estimated 296 gigatonnes of carbon in above- and below-ground biomass. 
  • They are essential for creating sustainable cities: they can cool the air by up to 8 degrees in urban areas, reducing air conditioning needs by 30%.
  • Trees are natural air filters, removing harmful pollutants and tiny particulates. 
  • Forests are home to over 80 per cent of land animals and plants and cover 31 per cent of the world’s total land area. 
  • Over 1.6 billion people directly depend on forests for their livelihoods and daily subsistence needs. 
  • Trees are vital for mental health. It’s been proven that simply looking at trees makes us feel happier, less stressed and spurs creativity. This is partly because they release chemicals called phytoncides that reduce blood pressure, lower anxiety levels, reduce pain and boost our levels of anti-cancer proteins. 

And, yet, we misuse and waste so much paper. So let’s fight to preserve trees and forests that look after us and life as we know it. Here are some tips so that when you use paper, you use it wisely:

  • Buy recycled paper. As recycled paper does not use virgin materials but instead is obtained from recycled stock, it is 60% less energy-intensive to produce. Therefore, diminishing the number of required trees to be cut down.
  • Use both sides and use paper scraps. This is great for drafts of just scribbling down notes and ideas. If you find yourself with a piece of printed paper, flip it over and use the blank side! You can even create your own notebook out of scrap paper!
  • Go chlorine-free. Bleaching paper with chlorine creates carcinogens called dioxin. So, If you need to use white paper or bleached paper, select either chlorine-free (TCF) or process chlorine-free (PCF). 
  • Take the pressure of trees and give alternative materials a go. Some include Stone paper, Kenaf, hemp, agri-pulp and bamboo papers.
  • Find alternatives to regular mail. If there is an option to receive your mail online, opt for it. This goes for bills, bank statements etc.  
  • Be gone with unnecessary paper subscriptions. If there are newspapers or magazines you can now access online, try to use them instead. 
  • Recycle. Do it and do it right. Separate your paper from other materials like plastic and distribute accordingly. As mentioned above, not all paper can be recycled (for example, greasy pizza boxes) so check your local recycling guidelines to see what can and can’t. 
  • Do a “paper” audit. If you work at home or from an office, assess how much paper is being consumed and then take the necessary steps to use less or purchase recycled paper. 
  • Avoid paper cups and dinnerware. Although convenient, these are highly wasteful and typically cannot be recycled because of their food contamination. Try using reusable dinnerware, or try finding edible dinnerware for your next gets together. 
  • BYO Tupperware for takeaway coffee and food. Most paper cups have a plastic coating that cannot be recycled, so instead, take a proper coffee break and drink your coffee in-house or bring your own reusable cup if you’re always on the go. 

Now you have an extra lens to look through when you’re making your paper use decisions. We understand that it can be challenging to cut out paper entirely (trust me, we have tried), but you can now be more mindful when using it and understand what alternatives you have, especially when returning back to work or study. 

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