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Paper consumption, good or bad?

Source: WikiCommons

Someone I know came up to me today to ask for help regarding an assignment. The instructions for this assignment were given to them in a powerpoint presentation, however reading on a screen proved difficult for them. So they decided to print this presentation on paper. The problem however, was that this presentation was 155 pages long. Each individual slide was printed on a single sided A4 piece of paper. I was shocked when this binder was brought to me. As I flipped through the pages I saw that each slide contained no more than 7-8 lines of printed text. My mind was racing with the principles of deforestation that I have learnt in school in such detail over the years. I thought to myself, how much paper is still being consumed globally and its comparison to the amount of paper wasted?

This website does a live count for the amount of paper consumed depending on a time frame of choice. 324 litres of water is required to produce 1 kg of paper, 93% of paper comes from trees, and 50% of waste from businesses is paper. According to that website, “pulp and paper is the 3rd largest industrial polluter of air, water and soil. Chlorine-based bleaches are used during production which results in toxic materials being released into our water, air and soil. When paper rots, it emits methane gas which is 25 times more toxic than CO2.” This statement provides a very jarring reality about how even a large packet of A4 sheet paper that we keep next to our printers at home requires such effort with a huge environmental cost.

Paper consumption will never end in the near future just because of how close we are to paper, from paper books to sketch pads, paper is an integral part of our daily lives. Many publishing houses use recycled paper or dung paper to make the consumption of paper more sustainable. In the corporate world, according to reported research, on average, 73-75% of businesses use paper and an average employee prints about 4 times a day. Privately, consumption isn’t as high, in fact people have been recycling more, reusing paper products and contributing to sustainable paper use. It is corporate waste that is the highest. However, many steps have been taken by offices to mitigate paper consumption. For example, offices have moved printers from private tables to other less trafficked area which discourages unnecessary trips to the printer.

Understandably, because paper is still so critical in our lives, in the use of books, newspapers, invoices, receipts, etc, the possibility of going completely paperless is highly unlikely. Perhaps that is not a bad thing. Paper provides other various advantages to us, such as physical stimulation, better creative engagement, higher likelihood of retaining information read, not as straining on the eyes, etc. Considering these various positive contributions paper makes to our lives, it is important that we cherish it, and use it in a sustainable manner that reduces wastage.

Perhaps instead of using 155 pages, we can place 4-6 slides on one side, and print double sided, reducing it to 20-30 pages printed saving a lot of paper. Such steps are also easier when people have access to information that teaches them these skills, to better use paper, to effectively use paper. For example, here is a page from Adobe Helpcentre about how to print multiple pages on page. Similarly, there are resources out there to provide guidance on techniques easily available to maximise the resources we have at hand. Once learnt, they are extremely easy to carry out and will work wonders!