Go PaperlessI’m sitting here staring at the two boxes of books Carl and I recently packed up for the library. Before we moved to Saint John from Toronto, we packed up another 8 boxes of literature and dropped them off at the Swansea branch. And that wasn’t the first time.

I’m wondering how much money we’ve spent on books in the last 5 years. And how many trees were cut down? Did we have other options?

Recently, our postal service went on strike. (Yes, that’s right.  If you’re not from Canada, you probably can’t fathom this, but it’s true.) Oddly, we were still able to get the details and balances of our bills and pay them on time. When the strike ended and we started getting our mail, there was literally nothing we needed in it. That got us thinking. How much can we cut back on the paper we use? Books? Bills and mail in general? Printing?

Our Challenge

I don’t think of us as extreme paper-wasters, but (as usual) I really don’t know that. Next week’s challenge will be about figuring it out. We’ll investigate how much paper we consume, what it means for the environment, and how we can cut back.

As usual, we’ll share the whole journey with you. Stay tuned for more information on Going Paperless. (If you’d like to have updates sent directly to your inbox, please sign up for our Email RSS feed.)

And thanks to Mike B for suggesting this topic. (Hope you’re enjoying France!)

Updated July 14, 2011 by Andrea

Our Tale
As always, feel free to skip to Our Findings and to learn if this challenge was worthwhile.  If you’d prefer to indulge in our tale, here’s how we went from Papered to Paperless in 1 week.

Step 1 – Hold The Mail

We receive around 20 pieces of mail each week.  Of that mail, about 15 pieces are junk mail – flyers, marketing, coupons, etc.  That leaves about 5 pieces of mail that I would call “legitimate mail”.  Legitimate or not, we concluded that nearly all of this mail is unnecessary in today’s age of e-billing.

Last week, my friend Mike recommended we check out Red Dot Campaign – a Canadian service dedicated to reducing unnecessary junk mail.  (There is a US-equivalent called Forest Ethics.)  The site had great information on how to stop receiving junk mail.  I followed it.

It started with a visit to our mailbox.  I simply hand-wrote a note (yes – on paper) that said “Dear Canada Post.  We do not wish to receive any unaddressed admail.  Thanks.”. I then taped it to the inside lip of our community mailbox.  No headaches.  No more junkmail.

I then made a list of our addressed mail sources.  (To avoid scammers and spammers, I’m not going to list out all of our service providers.  Instead, I’ll refer to them generally as “utility provider” and “cable provider”.  Sorry for the lack of disclosure.  I hope you understand.)  Here they are.

Banks, Insurance Providers, Investment Companies

We had signed up for e-Statements with our banks, insurance providers and investment companies long ago, but we were still receiving a significant amount of marketing from these companies.  Since these marketing communications were addressed to us, there was no way to stop their delivery through the postal service.  So, we took to the phones.

I called or emailed each of these companies to ask them to stop sending us any mail.  I probably spent 15 minutes on the phone with each of them – 90 minutes in total – explaining that I understood that we would no longer receive reminders about expiring products and the like.  In the end, they all agreed to stop sending us mail and wished us luck.

Cable, Internet and Phone Provider

Our cable, high speed and phone are all supplied by one provider that has an e-billing system.  We simply went to the provider’s site and signed up for e-billing.  We now receive our bills each month through email.  Very simple and straightforward.

Energy Providers

We receive 3 separate energy bills.  2 of them are electricity providers that do not have e-billing systems.  They do, however, allow customers to use Canada Post’s e-billing services.  I don’t think I would have found this out if I had not called and asked them directly about e-billing options. Once they told me that I could receive e-bills through the postal service, it only took a matter of minutes to sign up on the Canada Post site.  Now I receive those bills through email.

Our other energy bill is for propane that gets periodically checked and re-filled by our propane provider.  When the provider needs to fill our tank, they just do so and then leave an invoice at our door.  This has only happened once in the past 18 months.  The provider does not support e-billing, but I’m thinking this is not critical since I can just holler out the door and ask the guy not to give us an invoice.

Governments

Our biggest challenge in swapping to e-billing was governments.  (Surprised?)  We periodically receive mail from our local (water and sewerage), provincial (property taxes) and federal (income taxes) governments.  We could not find a way to change any of these to e-billing.  I did notice that some municipalities and provinces offered this service, but I guess good old Saint John, NB has yet to catch up.

Step 2 – Just Don’t Print

We print roughly 50 pages per week.  Carl is the real culprit here.  He likes to have paper in hand rather than stare at a screen.  (And who can blame him?)  Regardless, he’s committed to reducing this by 50 percent.  We’ll also make sure to use recycled paper all of the time.

We’ve recently learned that not all recycled paper is equal.  When buying paper, we now try to buy the paper with the highest possible Post Consumer Waste (PCW) material.  Check out Treecycle for more details.

Step 3 – Hit the Stacks

I read about one novel per week.  Carl prefers magazines.  Recently, we’ve started to borrow these from the library rather than purchase them anew, so we’ve made significant progress here.  We still receive 1 newsletter in the mail, which unfortunately doesn’t have an “e-option” and Carl is not willing to live without it.  Still, this is a vast reduction from the 52 books and 64 magazines a year we used to receive.

By the way, I came across an interesting article on Treehugger comparing the “green-ness” of reading the newspaper online versus in print.  Basically, the greener option depends on how long it takes someone to read the news and varies by country.  Worth reading.

Step 4 – Recycle

Although recycling is not really part of “Going Paperless” per se, I wanted to mention a few facts I’ve learned about paper waste while researching this week’s challenge.  Only 25 percent of the paper the world uses currently gets recycled.  (Source: lovetoknow)  The rest of our paper ends up in landfills where is takes between 5 and 15 years to break down.

I used to think that paper was fairly biodegradable and didn’t need to be recycled like glass and plastics, but, left untreated, paper has a fairly long life.  According to the same article by lovetoknow, it takes up 28 percent of the average landfill in the United States.

Carl and I try our best to recycle paper, but we can always do a better job.  Going forward, we’ll either (1) recycle or (2) shred and compost any used paper in our home.

Step 5 – Things We Don’t Need (I Mean, Is Gift Wrapping Really Necessary?)

Here are a few other areas outside of our analysis that we’re also working to improve.  I won’t go into the details as we don’t use much of these today, but I thought I’d mention them for the sake of completeness.  Wrapping paper.  Paper towels.  Paper plates.  Paper napkins.  Packaging.

Do we really need any of these?  I’m thinking – heck no.  Most of these items are disposable replacements for the cloth alternatives.

And then there’s toilet paper.  I’m not really sure what to say about this.  We have started to use toilet tissue made from recycled paper, but beyond that, what’s a girl to do?

Our Findings

How Many Trees?

So, how many trees are Carl and I ruthlessly murdering – before and after?  If we take into account our weekly mail (roughly 60 pages – 20 pieces at 3 pages per piece), our 50 printed pages per week and roughly 360 pages in leisure reading, we’re killing about 0.08 trees per week based on a factor of 0.00017 trees per page.  (The only source I could find: Answers.com.)  About 4 trees per year.

With our new target of only 25 pages per week plus a 1 page per week allowance for the mail we couldn’t stop, we are now killing about 0.004 pages per week or 0.23 trees per year.  And, if we can make sure to both recycle and use only recycled paper, this number could become close to 0.  Wouldn’t that be lovely?

Note, many pulp and paper companies are committed to replenishing the trees they are cutting down for paper.  This is necessary not only for the continuance of the industry, but also because trees provide the air we breathe and combat global warming.  For more information on the paper industry and deforestation, check out ecology.

To Print or Not to Print

We’ve now gone as paperless as we can manage.  We’ve cut out all mail – save a few rare communications.  We’ve all but obliterated our purchases of new books and magazines.  And we’ve cut back on printing.  (Where we must print, we will use recycled only.)  We’re feeling pretty good about this challenge.  And the changes we have made are definitely sustainable.  I mean, there may be that odd time when we’re trapped in the airport and stuck for something to read, but, on a day to day basis, I think we’ll do just fine.

The Goodness

“Reduce, reuse, recycle” really does say it all in this case.  We’ve got the jingle.  Now we just need to put it into action.  If everyone reduced their paper usage, used recycled paper and recycled their own paper waste, we would reduce the size of our landfills by up to 28 percent going forward.  This would not only mean more non-toxic land for future generations to leverage for agriculture and other purposes, but also less methane gas released into our air by landfills.

Similarly, we would cut down on the massive amount of pollution created by paper companies.  (Check out this article on ecology for the details.)  And the world’s forests would replenish and go back to their naturally diverse state.

Reduce, reuse, recycle.  All in all, it’s a very good thing.

 

 

Interested in our other challenges? Check out The Goodness Challenge.

Image: nuttakit / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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Just a small town mom trying to make the world a better place for my kids. One small change at a time.

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