Have you ever thought about how much paper you consume over the course of one year from printing, photocopying, using tissue paper, paper towels, or product packaging? Do you know how much comes from recycled materials, or as importantly, how much ends up in the landfill?
The sad fact is that at HKUST in 2012-2013, we consumed more than 42,000 reams of paper just for printing, copying and other office use – that is over 21 million sheets! That is an increase of 6% from the year before. Only about 16% of that amount came from recycled paper, so the remainder came from trees – 2,150 trees, to be exact. To put this into context, we planted around 600 new trees on campus last year, meaning that all of the beautiful new trees you now see on campus are equal to roughly one-third of all the trees cut down just to make our copy paper.
Wait a minute, you might say. We have a large campus with lots of people – so maybe it just seems like we are printing a lot. Well, we can do the math (we are a science and tech school, after all). If you divide the amount of paper by the number of students, faculty, and staff, then we find that we are consuming around 1,400 sheets of paper for each one of us. 1,400! Do you remember using that much paper just for printing and copying last year?
There is some good news, though. The overall amount of recycled content paper doubled, going from 8% to 16%. It is still a small number, but we are going in the right direction.
So what can we do? The best thing we can do is simply to find other ways to collect and distribute our information without printing. This does not mean doing without – it means being smarter. After all, paper is heavy, bulky, and takes up a lot of space. Wouldn't it be better to pass along the information without dragging along backpacks filled with paper? For example:
- Why print meeting agendas? Send it in advance and people can see it on their smart phones or iPads (everyone has a smart phone these days).
- No need to print out PowerPoint slides – they look terrible in print, and they just distract your audience when you are trying to talk them through your presentation.
- Preview the pages before you print. Sometimes there is an extra page or two stuck at the end of the document, and you don't want it anyway.
- Try reading journal articles on your computer or tablet before printing. You might find that you can get what you need from a quick glance. You might even find that it is a better experience since you can add electronic bookmarks, highlights, notes, and use the web links directly.
If you do need to print, try the recycled content paper. Honestly, you cannot tell the difference, and you will feel better about it in your heart. Don't you feel better already?