Imagine six 40-foot tall trees lined up in a row. Now imagine that these trees represent the paper equivalent of how much paper you typically consume in a year. Before you balk at the suggestion that you could consume that many trees in a single year, consider for a moment how much printing and faxing you typically do in a day...week…month.
Well, all that paper adds up. And according to The Economist, it adds up to almost six 40-foot trees a year – give or take half a tree. Looking at this sobering statistic, one thing’s clear: Americans – like so many other people around the world – have a serious paper problem.
Every year, U.S. office workers produce approximately 1.6 trillion pieces of paper. If you stacked all that paper up – the paper printed, the paper faxed, the paper photocopied – it would reach halfway to the moon.
You’re probably thinking, “Why haven’t we have moved past paper by now?”
The answer to your question is that unfortunately, business processes change slowly. Paper is cheap and people like using it. In fact, in many offices, 60% of paper use is required printing.
But it wasn’t supposed to be this way. Just 30 years ago, people were predicting that computers would make paper obsolete.
Picture it: The year is 1980 and computers are gaining mainstream attention. Literature on how to run a paperless office or household is popping up everywhere. And a new shift toward digital communication and storage is calling into question the relevancy of paper in a digital world.
Instead of decreasing, however, paper consumption surged. According to The Economist, “Global paper consumption has increased by half [since 1980].”
So, what the heck happened? Why do so many offices and households today continue to rely on an old technology that increases rather than decreases paper consumption?
Now for some good news!
With the increase in environmental awareness and the rise of tablets, mobile devices, and cloud-based tools such as Microsoft Office and Google Docs, paper use is finally starting to decline. According to The Wall Street Journal, there has been a steady decrease of 1-2% in office use of paper per year. As of 2016, we were 10% below the number of pages produced in 2007.
You can contribute to the paperless movement too, both at the office and at home. Here are some tips for how to live in a paperless world.
Reducing Paper Consumption at the Office
At present, businesses are expected to not only “explain their information-sharing practices to their customers…but also safeguard sensitive information,” according to the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999.
But what does legislation like the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act mean for the digital age? And more importantly, what does it mean when the most convenient method of delivery – the internet – offers speed but fails to keep private information safe?
For almost three decades now, it has meant that the only way to send sensitive information was via an old-fashioned fax machine. But what many of us failed to notice was the impact that traditional faxing had on paper consumption.
It is generally estimated that U.S. paper usage for faxing is equivalent to 3,000 times the height of the Empire State Building.
Here are some great ideas for reducing your office’s paper waste — which can help the environment and save your business money at the same time.
1. Print double-sided or multiple pages on a single sheet
The Clean Air Council points out that US office workers use a combined four million tons of copy paper each year. So ask yourself: Are you and your team using all of the paper in your office as wisely and carefully as you could?
If you’re printing files for internal use only, or just to review them yourself, an easy way to save paper, money and the environment is to print double-sided or even to print several pages on a single sheet. Using only this strategy could cut your office’s paper usage by 50%.
2. Set smaller margins
If you can’t print double-sided or print several sheets on each page, try setting smaller margins, or using smaller type sizes, especially for documents you’re not presenting to partners or clients but just using internally.
Do you really need all of that white space anyway?
3. Reuse your scrap paper
Now what about all those piles of paper on your desk? Instead of just discarding them, reuse them around the office as scrap paper.
You could simply turn over any printed piece of standard paper and use it in your office or conference room for taking notes during meetings. Encourage your staff to do the same.
You can also cut up these old pieces of paper into half- or quarter-sized scraps, and keep them one everyone’s desk or by your phones, for notes or message-taking. Have fun with it!
4. Make digital copies only, wherever possible
In many cases, you’ll find you don’t need to use paper at all. If you’re collaborating with your team on a presentation or document, why not use electronic copies only? You can collaborate and update files in the cloud using services like Google Docs or Dropbox — no paper needed.
And if you need to send or receive faxes for business, use an internet fax service, like eFax, rather than your old paper-based fax machine. You can handle the entire fax process — receiving, reviewing, editing, signing and sending — all through email or a mobile fax app, without printing a single sheet of paper. eFax even lets you archive and store faxes for free.
5. Digitize what’s already printed
Do you save receipts for business purposes? Clear out the clutter by using an app that turns your receipts into data instead. Apps like Shoeboxed digitize and archive your receipts into one secure location. You can manage your receipts with accurate mileage tracking using your phone’s GPS, and you can take receipt images on-the-go.
Shoebox lets you send expense reports with receipt images, and it has a business card management tool that replaces traditional business cards with an online database of contacts. This is a small way to go paperless that will make your life a lot easier.
You can also say goodbye to the piles of paper by scanning your files instead of keeping paper copies. Make sure to set up a consistent system for labeling and scanning your files so that you can navigate your digital folders easily.
Store your archived documents on an external hard drive, or use online backup sites. Cloud storage enables you to easily share files between devices and access them anytime and anywhere. By going paperless, you can manage and access your documents much more effectively.
Reducing Paper Consumption at Home
According to the University of Southern Indiana, “The average household throws away 13,000 separate pieces of paper each year.”
One of the best ways to reduce paper consumption at home is to switch from a paper filing system to a digital one. Keeping documents pertaining to your finance, taxes, and major life events on a hard drive lets you maintain greater control over your private information. And with cloud storage, you can create and maintain an archiving system that spans across multiple categories, dates and types of documents.
It’s a good practice to add a password to protect the privacy of your documents, particularly if you will be sharing your computer with others. If you’re still reluctant to make the switch from paper to digital, you may want to consider these benefits:
- Easily retrieve and manage your files from anywhere
- Use digital folders to conveniently organize your files by category
- Send documents back and forth between your computers
- Store 10,000 documents per gigabyte of storage
- Cut down on printing
Here are some more tips for how to live in a paperless home.
Do you love to read but want to reduce your environmental impact?
Instead of reaching for a book on the shelf, purchase an e-book instead. E-books are easier for storage and travel, and many of them have awesome features. With the Kindle, you can annotate, highlight and share passages without ruining a book. You don’t have to worry about bent pages, losing your place, or not being able to read in the dark. It will even tell you how much of your chapter or book is left, and how long it will take you to read it.
Students can go paperless too by purchasing online copies of textbooks. Nothing is worse than getting to the library or class and realizing that you’ve forgotten a book at home. By going paperless, you can more easily keep track of your materials and lighten your backpack load.
Do you feel like you’re drowning in stacks of paper photos?
Try using cloud storage or an external hard drive instead. Not only will this free up tons of space in your home, but it will also make it easier for you to keep track of your photos and to share them with other devices and people. Also, if there’s ever an emergency, your photos will be stored safe and sound.
Want to reduce stress around the holidays? Email a PDF of your holiday card photos and letter instead of mailing paper ones. Not only will this help the environment, but it will save you so much time and energy during one of the craziest times of the year.
Traveling can be hectic, but going paperless can ultimately save you time and reduce stress.
If you check in online, you can avoid long lines at the airport and download your mobile boarding pass directly onto your smartphone instead of printing it. Apps like WalletPasses (for Android users) and Wallet (for iOS users) enable you to store your boarding pass for easy access on your phone. With these apps, your boarding pass will automatically update with any changes regarding your flight, so you don’t have to worry about frantically checking for delays or gate changes.
4. Notes and Reminders
People are forgetful, and most of us need notes or reminders in order to keep track of everything. Instead of reaching for a paper solution, try using an app instead.
Experiment with apps like Notes, GoodNotes, or EverNote instead of carrying around a clunky paper notebook. Take advantage of your built-in smartphone, Outlook, or Google Suite Calendar instead of using a paper planner. Want to keep track of your work at the office? Try using a task manager like Asana instead of sticky notes.
Going paperless will ultimately make all of your notes and reminders more accessible and helpful.
Let’s Work Toward a Paperless Future
Going paperless is not just important and possible. Clearly, it can make your life so much easier too! Whether it’s as small as downloading your mobile boarding pass or as big as storing your documents online, there are so many ways to reduce paper use.
Ralph Waldo Emerson put it best when he said, "Moderation in all things." While we may not be able to curb our addiction to paper entirely, we can minimize it. After all, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, saving just one ton of paper could save 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.
So, before you send another fax out the old-fashioned way, sign up for an online fax service and send it over the internet instead. You’ll save time, paper, and ultimately, a lot of trees!
And who knows – this time next year, a new infographic might show that U.S. paper usage for faxing has decreased to just 2,000 times the height of the Empire State Building!
Together, we can all contribute to a paperless world. Get started with eFax and reduce your paper consumption today!