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Ways to Reduce Paper Waste

How to Reduce Paper Waste

Every year around four billion trees are cut down across the world to produce paper, which leads to an incredible amount of waste. Most paper is recyclable, so putting it in your recycling bin at home or work is responsible. But avoiding using and generating waste paper in the first place is best for the environment.

We create about 9.9 million tonnes of paper waste in the UK annually. The good news is that we currently recycle around 80% of paper. However, that means nearly two million tonnes of paper are disposed of irresponsibly and could end up in landfill. Plus, recycling paper requires lots of energy, time, and resources.

Reducing paper waste is the most environmentally friendly action and there are many ways we can do this at home and work. Discover how to reduce paper waste and why businesses and individuals need to make the effort with this guide.

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Why is reducing paper waste important?

The main reasons for reducing paper waste are to minimise the number of trees cut down each year, preserve millions of litres of water, and save lots of energy. Recycling is the right choice when you’re done with a sheet of paper but avoiding using paper in the first place helps the environment most.

The production process of paper has a high carbon footprint despite its natural source. This is because it requires lots of energy. For example, creating 100,000 sheets of paper uses eight or more trees and 2,000kWh of energy with a carbon footprint of 6,000kg. And each tree chopped down to make paper means one less tree removing carbon dioxide from the air.

Trees are a vital part of our ecosystem and vital in the fight against global warming through their carbon absorption. One of their main jobs is to store carbon and release oxygen into the atmosphere. The billions of trees cut down every year to make post-it notes and printer paper can’t do this.

Paper waste facts
junk mail, leaflets, and waste paper.

How to reduce paper waste 
in the office

Offices are one of the biggest sources of paper waste. According to some research the average office worker might use up to 10,000 sheets of paper a year (although it’s likely much less now due to the new digital age). However, up to 70% of office waste is paper.

Recycling paper from offices is important to help the environment by avoiding it going to landfill and to lower your commercial waste disposal costs. Avoiding creating – or at least reducing – high volumes of waste paper is even better for the environment and your budget. Here are a few easy ways to reduce paper waste in the office:

  • Print essentials only – it sounds simple but 30% of printing in offices isn’t picked up. Think about whether what you’re about to print is necessary. Could a meeting agenda be emailed instead? Can you share the presentation online later? Will the handouts be read or left behind? Ensure your team or company all follow the same rules.
  • Make paperless notes – if you’re taking a laptop into a meeting you can save paper by making notes on Word instead. There are also countless smartphone apps and functions that you can use. Just make it clear why you’re on your phone to avoid annoying others.
  • Avoid flyers and posters – many offices print off posters and stick them up in the kitchen about upcoming events. Couldn’t these just be emailed around the business? It saves paper and printer ink. The same goes for flyers placed on desks or handed out at events.
  • Hot desk – there’s always one or two in every office whose desks are piled high with junk – mostly papers. Hotdesking means people don’t have the time or effort to build up stacks of paper and they’re more likely to recycle it sooner. It can reduce paper waste and keep the office tidy.
  • Shred and recycle documents – plenty of paper documents are required in offices such as for solicitors. Most private documents must be shredded. Arrange paper shredding and recycling to avoid such waste going to landfill or incineration.
  • Use paper recycling bins – offices will always create some level of waste paper. Place paper recycling bins around your office to ensure this is easy to recycle, which reduces (and hopefully eliminates) any paper from your office going to landfill.

How to reduce paper 
waste at home

The average UK family household throws away the equivalent of six trees worth of paper every year. This includes everything from junk mail and envelopes to newspapers, magazines, decorations, and wrapping paper. Thankfully most of this paper is recyclable and responsibly disposed of in most household recycling bins across the UK.

Recycling paper at home still requires time, energy, and resources. Reducing paper waste is best. Here’s how to reduce paper waste at home:

  • Avoid paper towels – used paper towels can’t be recycled as they get contaminated, and the fibres become weakened when damp. Instead, seek alternatives such as washable towels, tea towels, or old cloth.
  • Use both sides of paper – when you need to use paper for writing, drawing, or printing something out at home use both sides of the sheet. This is an easy way to half how much waste paper your household produces.
  • Reuse paper – many types of paper are reusable. Save any wrapping paper and use it to wrap up gifts for others, use old newspaper to protect glasses and crockery when moving home, and get crafting by creating papier-mâché from any old sheets a s fun indoor kids activity.
  • Get rid of your printer – unless you need it for work or volunteering most homes don’t have a great need for a printer. Having a printer-free home removes the temptation to needlessly print off things. It should make you think twice and if you do need to print something you can normally do so at work or the local library.
  • Read online – swap your newspaper or magazine subscription from a physical to a digital one. This can have a significant impact on reducing waste paper from your household if you receive a daily or even just a weekly copy.
  • Take cloth bags shopping – paper bags are easier to recycle than plastic carrier bags, but they don’t last that long. Use cloth bags that are stronger and last longer than both. Plus, you can wash them if they get dirty or start to smell.
three balls of scrunched up paper on a sheet of paper.

How to reduce 
the use of paper

If you don’t use paper you won’t create any waste. Therefore, minimising how much paper we use in our daily lives at work and home is an easy step to reducing paper waste. Using some paper products is essential and unavoidable, so it’s important to ensure these are always recycled. However, there are many times when we can eliminate paper usage.

Reduce the use of paper in your business or household with these ideas:

  • Store files online – digital advancements mean today it’s incredibly safe to store documents containing private and sensitive information online. Consider digitising your professional or personal files and ensuring all future documents are digital only to avoid using paper in the future.
  • Get e-tickets – many ticket providers offer a choice between a digital or physical ticket. Going for a digital ticket saves the paper to print off the ticket as well as that used for any envelopes. Plus, there’s less chance of losing it. This applies to everything from gig and theatre tickets to train tickets.
  • Avoid disposable paper products – while there’s a ban on single-use plastic in the UK for many items, disposable paper plates, napkins, and cups are still available. Some of these are recyclable in theory, but not once contaminated with food. Stick to using real plates, mugs, and washable cloth napkins.
  • Use packaging-free items – paper makes up a lot of packaging waste. Look for food and drink items and other products that use as little packaging as possible to avoid building up paper waste.
  • Check your mail preferences – receiving physical post is a big source of waste paper for households. Check what you’ve agreed to receive by mail and switch to online and email versions where possible, such as for bank statements. Unsubscribe from any physical marketing agreements and junk mail too.
Learn more about paper recycling

Read more waste reduction guides

Reduced your paper waste and usage as much as possible in your business and household? There are plenty more waste types to tackle. Find out how to reduce other kinds of waste with these helpful articles.

How to reduce waste
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  • Any type of paper waste
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