Monday, July 12, 2010

EcoMonday: The facts about paper

Paper recycling and conservation has been around for so long that most people and offices do it just out of habit. In fact, we did a small survey around The Hub's twoffice, and we discovered that the most common answer people gave when asked why they recycle paper or conserve it, was a quick shrug of the shoulders and an easy, "I'm saving trees!"

That's nice. It really, really is. But the average office worker uses something like 10,000 sheets of copy paper alone per year,* so we'd like to think that keeping all that paper out of the stream might be doing more than just saving trees. There are a few more benefits to recycling or saving paper, some of which stem from the act of saving trees, some of which don't. Let's take a look.

1. Paper has many lives
Recycled paper doesn't just end up being made into post-consumer recycled office paper. In fact, the more paper gets recycled, the shorter its fibers get. At the end of its life span, paper fibers might be not be long enough to be suitable for office use, but shorter fibers are suitable to make everything from egg cartons to newsprint.

After recycled paper becomes egg cartons, we've seen them repurposed yet again. Image via Craft Elf.

2. The carbon cycle
Saving trees comes a flip side: Although many forestry companies say they plant trees to make up for the ones they've cut down, they're neglecting one critical part of the equation: Each tree that's cut down releases carbon dioxide back into the air through the natural process of decomposition. So if we can reuse paper that's already out there, we can prevent more carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

3. Quite simply, a more cost-efficient office
In many cases, we use our shredded documents as packing materials instead of purchasing packing peanuts or bubble-wrap. It doesn't sound like a lot, but it does add up.

It's not quite like this, but you get the idea. (Photo:

4. Saving Landfill Space
Paper takes up quite a bit of landfill space. Imagine 4 million tons of office paper. That's what the EPA says we use on average in American offices each year. That's a lot of land area. And since paper takes about a month to break down in a natural, aerated environment, you can imagine how long it'll take to break down in a non-aerated landfill surrounded by other garbage.

For all these reasons and more, we recycle and try to keep virgin paper out of our office. We're curious: What other items do you recycle in your offices?

*Source: EPA Recycling Paper FAQ.

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