Paper Waste and the “Three Rs”

Paper is probably the most renewable consumable resource out there. Cut down a tree to make boards, and paper, and toothpicks and just plant a new one… and when it grows up in about 20 to 100 years you can chop it down to make new wood products… assuming we’re not using transparent aluminum and cold fusion by then.

Paper is all around us and many, many, many, many trees are chopped down to create it all. And in the process we humans, in our immeasurable ignorance, chase animals out of their homes, kill species we haven’t even discovered yet, dump oh so much carbon back into the atmosphere, and generally destroy the environment. We spend lots of money harvesting trees that will never be replaced. We burn enough fossil fuels to power NASCAR for eternity, dumping more carbon into the atmosphere. We belittle local populations, stealing their lands and destroying their homes. And worst of all: paper cuts!

Ok, maybe paper cuts are the least worrisome tragedy.

We need to do something about this. But unless we all just STOP using paper and paper products nothing will ever be fixed!

But let’s remember our 3 R’s: reading, writing, and arithmatic… oops, wrong R’s. I meant Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. It’s not about eliminating paper from our lives, it’s about reducing our consumption of and reliance on them.

First: Reduce

You have a phone in your pocket. You don’t NEED to write things down on post-it notes and paper calendars and contact books. Yes, it is nice to have a paper copy of a calendar hanging right there in the kitchen or family room so everyone in the family knows whats happening when. Especially when you have little kids who don’t have a device like a phone or tablet to carry around with them 24/7. But unlike just a few years ago you can store everything in the cloud. If your phone is lost or damaged, or you’re not near a computer, or your kid is playing on your tablet there is always another window to your digital information. These notes and events can be in the cloud, which is where your communication is already. Whether you email clients or teachers, text spouses or children, or talk over social media with friends then you already have a big portion of your life in the cloud. Move the rest there.

This will help you reduce some paper, but not nearly all of it. You should also get behind any school, work, or business that wants to do paperless billing, pay fees online, and complete forms or applications in an app or on their website. Get behind schools that want to transfer their books and notebooks to a digital format. If you’re concerned about kids losing their handwriting skills there are plenty of options out there which include digital pens and notebooks (iPad, Samsung, Surface, and so on). And if you just can’t move away from pens and pencils yourself, there are options out there for you. Some as simple as dry erase boards and as complicated (and expensive) as Samsung’s smart refridgerator. I personally enjoy the Boogie Board products and Rocket Book.

This is a start; let’s keep going though.

Do you eat out a lot? Been using delivery services since the pandemic began? Do you know how much paper is wasted by fast food restaurants? Firstly, bags, wrappers, boxes, placemats, and napkins. Secondly… stop eating out. Really there’s nothing wrong with getting a burger and fries once in a while, as long as those “once’s” are between very distant “while’s”. Fast food is generally more unhealthy than food you could make at home. Yes, you need time to shop for food, and then prepare the food. Then you need everyone’s schedules to match up so you can have a nice family meal. But doesn’t the fact you need to really consider whether to save money, have a healthy meal and spend time with your family and friends say something about society today? Versus eating fatty, unhealthy fast food on the go because everyone is too busy to sit and relax and have a good meal and talk and enjoy each other’s company?

A few other suggestions: buy recycled goods. Purchase products that are sustainably sourced. Purchase products that come in the least bit of packaging possible (or no packaging at all). Use reusable dinnerware instead of paper plates and napkins. Use fabric rags instead of paper towels.

Second: Reuse

It may seem silly, but kids love to draw. Give them old papers and let them draw on the back of them. If you need to shred the papers (like old bank statements) use the shredded material in compost piles. You can use old boxes for packing items you are selling on sites like eBay, and you can pack them in that shredded paper or old newspapers. Paper (and even styrofoam) egg cartons can be used to separate small things like LEGO bricks and beads. The styrofoam egg crates can be used to separate paints instead of paper plates.

And, yes, paper is really hard to reuse. There’s tons of crafts and art projects you can do with old paper, tissue boxes, and paper towel cylinders. But those will eventually end up in the trash. So if you use paper, and then reuse that paper, always make sure to…

Third: Recycle

Unfortunately not every type of paper is recyclable. Only paper products such as cardboard and packaging materials which explicitly say they are recyclable (denoted by the recycle symbol ♻️) can be recycled. Everything else… probably not. Paper fibers don’t last forever. The process of tearing up and cleaning old paper products reduces the length and strength of these fibers. This means they don’t act like fibers at some point and are merely destroyed plant cells. But not only does paper have a low recycling lifespan, some papers simply cannot be recycled at all. Any laminated, glossy, or shiny paper or box is not recyclable. That gloss is the result of plastics or waxes, neither of which play nice with recycling systems, at least when recycling paper. It’s the same thing with food grease. Any boxes or papers that have been used with food (like pizza boxes) cannot be recycled because the grease messes with the process. So that’s a bunch of wasted paper we will never get back.

But there’s always composting. As a matter of fact, at the ice cream shop where I work we have two cups that are compostable. The problem with those? They are COMPOST-ABLE; not recyclable nor biodegradeable. They need to be placed into a compost pile. The compost pile relies on heat and tiny organisms to eat and process the compost. The end result is fertilizer, but only in a compost pile, not in a trash can or landfil.

It’s not easy being green

ANYTHING you do is infinitely better than doing nothing. You just have to figure out for yourself how much you hate Mother Nature you gas guzzling tree murderer. Then you can start to remove paper waste from your daily routine. Mother Nature will thank you.

-Diggs out

P.S. – eventually I’ll talk about the downsides of technology, as well as the infinitely recyclable resource that is aluminum.

P.P.S. – it’s A-LUM-I-NUM… not AL-LU-MIN-I-UM…




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