Do's and Don'ts to Reduce Paper Use at Home or Work

Photo: billionstrang/flickrEven though we live in an increasingly digitized world, an astounding 69 million tons of paper and paperboard are produced annually in the US. Americans have a commendable track record in recycling paper (about 65 percent!), but there's still more you can do to reduce your carbon footprint and the amount of paper that ends up in landfills. Follow these simple tips to cut your paper consumption at home and at work:

  1. DO track your use of paper to see where wastage can be lessened.

  2. DO buy recycled paper. Even toilet paper comes in a recycled version.

  3. DO purchase thinner paper for your printing and stationery.

  4. DO reuse envelopes. Cover the old address with a label made from recycled paper.

  5. DON'T print single-sided paper. Set "Double-sided" as your default print mode instead. 

  6. DO reuse, repurpose, recycle. Utilize the blank side of printed sheets for shopping lists, notes, doodles, children's artwork, and so on. Make thoroughly-written-on paper into origami or papier mache projects. And when its useful life is finished, bundle paper up for recycling.

  7. DO fax directly from your computer. If you usually print out documents before faxing them to Head Office in Cincinnati, remodel your usual behavior and skip this paper-wasting step.

  8. DON'T have sensitive documents such as bank statements or credit card bills mailed to your home or office. In addition to using more paper than is necessary, you run the risk of identity theft.

  9. DON'T set your table with paper napkins. Cloth serviettes are both greener and more elegant.

  10. DO learn to edit electronically. When it's important to see both the rough draft and suggested corrections, use a program such as MS Word's "Track Changes" or Google Docs' editor.

  11. DON'T just press "Print" when you absolutely must have a paper copy of a document. Instead, use paper-conserving tricks such as reducing the margins to .75 inch, selecting "Print" format, and printing only the section that you need.

  12. DO use Excel sheets for your to-do lists. They are eco-friendly and so much easier to keep track of than random sheets of paper. As you take care of each item on your list, mark it with the date completed. You'll get a marvelous feeling of accomplishment and organization.

  13. DO hang a perpetual calendar on your wall in place of an annual one.

  14. DON'T take your midday meal to work or school in the traditional brown paper bag. Opt for a reusable lunch container instead.

  15. DO replace paper towels with rags -- preferably of non-fraying fabric, which are safest to launder in the washing machine.

  16. DON'T trash gift wrap. Remove it carefully, fold gently, and reuse it -- more than once if possible. Better yet, present gifts in pretty, reusable boxes, bags, or furoshiki (Japanese wrapping cloths).

  17. DO read books and periodicals on an electronic device … or join a good old-fashioned library -- remember those? If you must buy new books and magazines, circulate them among your friends when you're done.

  18. DO prepare coffee with reusable filters. Or try a money-saving French press.

  19. DON'T buy greeting cards. Sending e-cards is a gesture that shows love not only for the recipient but also for the whole planet.

Laura Firszt writes for

Updated August 12, 2018.

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