Last autumn, I challenged myself to go a year without paper towels. As mom to a toddler, I expected a homemaking equivalent to culture shock, but to my great surprise, I wasn’t as inconvenienced as I thought I’d be. Now that my personal challenge is coming to a close, I have to wonder what other paper products I could easily live without.
Paper is so ingrained in our culture that little things like Christmas cards and tax forms can elude us. Here are some juicy tips on reducing paper consumption without drastically Furoshiki and its uses range from small boxed gifts to odd shapes such as wine bottles.
6. Greeting Cards. I don’t know about you, but I look forward to and cherish Christmas letters from out-of-town friends every year. One family friend prints stunning collages of vacation photos to accompany their holiday letter; however, their correspondence takes two pieces of paper, plus an envelope and a couple of stamps. If their Christmas letters were in PDF form, however, picture quality would improve and the cost of printing and postage would simply disappear. Now that’s win-win.
7. Scrapbooks. Yet another place to digitize! Scrapbooks are incredible heirlooms that not even the staunchest tree-hugger can deny. While you may hesitate to call a digital file an heirloom, it’s something every scrapbooker and family archivist should consider. If digitization is an absolute no-no, assess the amount of designer paper you actually use vs. the shreds and scraps bound for the waste bin, and minimize the margin of waste as much as possible.
8. Personal Finance. Don’t stop at online banking and saying ‘no’ to paper statements. Make a list of all bills and convert them into online accounts. There’s an added bonus when you efile your income taxes and track your checkbook in a spreadsheet: your calculations are less likely to be incorrect.
9. Photos. Don’t print doubles of entire film rolls when you could just as easily ask your photo technician for digital copies on disk. It’s cost-effective when Grandparents or friends from a group vacation can print only the files they want.
With the Kids:
10. Artwork. Scrap paper is easy to amass – a bit too easy, actually. Making collages with your kids teaches them to find beauty in simple and everyday objects, such as maps from that phone book you never use or paper labels on dry cleaning hangers.
11. Cloth diapers. Although I wouldn’t wish cloth diapers on any newborn’s parents, there’s something to be said for cloth diapers in the potty training years. Soiled cloth diapers are a far less comfortable burden than paper counterparts; a pull-up training diaper contains a lot more wasteful paper product than a newborn-sized diaper, too.
Out and about:
12. BYOB 2.0. Reusable shopping bags aren’t just for the grocery store. Anytime store clerks start bagging your items, speak up! Keep a small, easy-to-fold bag in your car or offer to put your items in your purse.
13. Travel Mugs. A lot of coffee shops give discounts for customers who bring their own cups. One of my favorite coffee spots takes a whopping fifty cents off the price of a coffee! Maybe it’s only a matter of taste, but I must insist that beverages, especially tea, taste better when not in paper cups.
14. Brown bag lunches. The obvious solution to eliminating brown bags, recycled or otherwise, is to invest in a sturdy lunchbox tarted up with insulation, tupperware, and a thermos. Bento boxes are a stylish place to carry lunches with an Asian flare if you don’t need all the other bells and whistles. Tip! You can make reusable lunch bags and snack pouches with the right fabric – or scoop some up from Amazon or Etsy.
In your mailbox:
15. Junk mail. Keep junk mail from sneaking into your mailbox by finding out which companies sell customer information to third parties and whose default privacy options aren’t private at all. From your chocolate-of-the-month club, your bank, and even the DMV, it seems like everyone wants to sell your private information.
16. Digital Publications. Many popular magazines offer digital editions and apps for mobile phones and tablets. Newspapers like the LA Times and the Miami Herald already offer digital subscriptions; it’s just a matter of time until the rest of print media catches up.
17. Magazine Swaps. Dozens of libraries offer magazine swaps – sometimes they make an event of it and sometimes swaps are as minimal as several open boxes full of magazines free-for-the-taking. Magazine swaps are a great place to find new and interesting reads you might not find otherwise.
18. Catalogs. There’s nothing quite like a lackadaisical skim through a catalog with a marker and a glass of iced tea on a Sunday afternoon. However, most of us Sunday-afternoon-shoppers will make purchases online, not by phone or mailing a check and an order form.
19. Coupons. One of the reasons people buy newspapers is coupons, understandably. Grocery stores with loyalty programs may have digital coupons for manager specials and in-store discounts. Digital coupons are wildly popular right now, thanks in part to mobile apps like CardStar, which consolidates loyalty programs and coupons.
At the office:
20. Printer make-over. Re-configure your printing options and compress the default layout to 2 pages per sheet without slimming margins and unnecessary headers or page numbers. Use a printer that can print double-sided pages (also called duplex printing) or keep a stack of misprints for reuse.
21. If you must print, be selective about the contents on-page. Copy and paste only the text or photos necessary rather print an entire report or website. Tip! It isn’t poor etiquette to remind others not to print in your email signature. “Save a tree – don’t print me!”
22. PDF. An excellent PDF is like a Word document, if it went on The View for a makeover. There are endless applications for their use at home and in the office, such as neighborhood newsletters, press kits, cover letters and resumes, tutorials, and recipes.
23. Presentation slides. Replace reports and hand-outs at meetings with power point presentations or Slide Share presentations. This will also keep everyone on the same topic and stragglers or bored attendees can’t skim or lag behind.
24. Business cards. If a lot of people see business cards as just more junk, digital business cards are even worse. What’s the solution? Get a creative business card! Find a company that makes trade show swag and logo products such as pencils or keychains, and find something unusual but useful that will stand out.
25. Memos. Who isn’t a sucker for a colorful array of post-it notes? If you must make notes for yourself or others, trade in those bright sticky pads (and office corkboards) for a dry-erase board, chalkboard, or, perhaps best of all, a personal etch-a-sketch at your work station.
Rae Alton is a content specialist and amateur green hacker from Greensboro, NC. Follow Rae on Twitter at @raezin1984