The average U.S. office worker uses around 10,000 sheets of paper per year. If that number alone seems like a lot, keep in mind that means we’re talking in the realm of just over 12 trillion (12,000,000,000,000) sheets of paper used in U.S. offices every single year.
Nearly 50 percent of that paper will end up in the trash. On average, 70 percent of the waste that most companies produce consists of paper. Let’s take a look at some more paper waste stats to better understand the issue.
Waste Not, Want Not
A lot of things are created with very little waste. Paper is not one of them. Now before you print out this blog to share with your coworkers, keep this in mind: Paper manufacturing is an incredibly wasteful process that necessitates a huge amount of resources.
According to Environment Canada, the production of one kilogram of paper requires 324 litres of water. The paper industry is the 3rd largest user of fossil fuels on the planet. Over 40 percent of industrial logging goes directly towards paper production. Humanity’s demand for paper is one of the most direct causes of deforestation across the planet.
With the massive amount of resources required to create paper, it’s shocking to consider that, according to research, 30 percent of print jobs are never even picked up from the printer, and 45 percent end up in the trash by the end of the day.
We Don’t Have the Space
According to the US EPA, the material most frequently encountered in MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) landfills is paper. Paper waste accounts for more than 40 percent of a landfill’s contents. Despite the worlds continued embrace of digital media, newspapers alone can take up as much as 13 percent of the space in US landfills.
Biodegradable only goes so far in a landfill environment. Paper is much more resistant to deterioration when compacted in a landfill than when it’s in open contact with the atmosphere. In fact, a study by the Garbage Project showed that, when excavated from a MSW landfill, newspapers from the 1960s can be found intact and completely readable.
The “Junk” in “Junk Mail”
Humanity has devised a pretty silly pipeline for junk mail flyers. The flyers get printed on paper, they get put into your mailbox, then you take them and put them in the trash. Talk about efficiency.
Think about how often you actually hold on to a flyer you get in the mail. Now consider that four million tons of junk mail are delivered to landfills each year. According to the EPA, that’s more than 50 percent of the junk mail that gets made.
Junk mail aside, think about your bills – water, electricity, cable, phone, etc. Most of these are tossed in the same trash pile as your junk mail. Perhaps with even more vigor.
What Can Be Done?
Going 100 percent paperless isn’t plausible for every business. But it’s estimated that 50 percent of office waste that goes to landfills is recyclable.
Experts predict that, if digital document management systems were widely used, it would save around 1.4 trillion pounds of paper.
On a personal level, you can save huge amounts of paper with just a little mindfulness. You rarely use a phone book, but most cities continue to print them. If you and 499 of your closest neighbours recycle them instead of throwing them in the trash, you’ve just saved approximately 30 trees.
Go paperless with your bills. Opt-out of junk mail by calling the toll-free number listed on the ad. Think twice before you print something that you’re just going to mark-up and then throw in the trash. Sign up for online magazines and ditch the print versions. Use electronic storage and scan your receipts, instructions and forms. Perhaps one of the biggest things you can do is buy recycled items! Make sure you’re checking the packages of your books, notebooks, cards and household papers for the phrase “Made from Recycled Materials.”