Topic:
LANDFILLS; SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT; RECYCLING;
Location:
SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT;

OLR Research Report


November 13, 2000

 

2000-R-1041

PAPER CONSUMPTION REDUCTION

 

By: Mary M. Janicki, Assistant Director

You asked how computers could be used to reduce paper consumption by the state. You want to know if state programs (here or elsewhere) or business policies require the use of computers to transmit information or minimize the amount of printed material. You asked how such programs work and whether they are effective.

SUMMARY

Paper is the largest component of the country's solid waste burden. Computers have failed to reduce paper consumption; on the contrary, paper consumption has increased with the growth of computer usage. Personal computers alone account for 115 billion sheets of paper per year worldwide. Environmental and trade group studies have documented the problems associated with paper consumption. In addition to investigating paper manufacturing methods, they focus on reducing, reusing, and recycling paper. Proposals for reducing consumption address industry standards for purchasing (including lightweight paper with post-consumer recycled content); printing and packaging norms; office practices related to computers, photocopiers, and fax machines; and waste disposal.

Many governmental and corporate paper reduction programs are in place, but the effort seems sporadic. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has an internal program as well as an outreach program to encourage reduced paper consumption. We found that only Hawaii has a statutory goal of reducing office paper consumption. Though Connecticut (as well as the federal government and other states) has launched efforts at paperwork reduction (presumably resulting in some paper savings), it has no statewide program for reducing paper usage. Illinois and California environmental agencies provide suggestions to those who want to create programs for reducing paper use.

The businesses most often cited for their efforts in reducing paper consumption are the Bank of America, United Parcel Service, and Procter and Gamble. By reducing paper usage through company-wide strategies and policies, they have reduced costs through savings in paper purchases and waste removal.

TRADE AND ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS

The Worldwatch Institute published Paper Cuts: Recovering the Paper Landscape in 1999 (see http://www.worldwatch.org/pubs/paper/149.html). The study maintains that global consumption of wood fiber for papermaking could be cut by more than 50% by trimming paper consumption in industrial countries, improving efficiencies in papermaking, and expanding the use of recycled and nonwood materials.

The Alliance for Environmental Innovation has “Tips for a Greener Office” at http://www.edfpewalliance.org/OfficeTips.html. They include:

● Avoiding unnecessary printing.

● Retaining documents on a computer, rather than in hard copy.

● Reviewing documents for spelling errors and editing before printing.

● Using two-sided copying features on computers and photocopiers.

● Using email to communicate with colleagues and exchange documents.

● Avoiding printing email messages.

● Eliminating the cover page when faxing a document.

● Encouraging recycling.

A discussion paper, “Rethinking Paper Consumption,” produced by the International Institute for Environment and Development includes a section on “Choosing and Using Paper Sustainably” as well as recommendations to achieve reductions (http://www.oneworld.org/iied/scati/pub/rethink.htm). The paper cites as a rule of thumb that a 20% cut in consumption is possible through improved housekeeping measures. A greater reduction (up to 50%) requires changes in systems.

GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS

Connecticut has no statewide policy or program to reduce agency consumption of paper, according to Janis Nome, the legislative liaison of the Department of Administrative Services, and Commissioner Rock Regan of the Department of Information Technology. Pursuant to recommendations of the 1997 Paperwork Reduction Task Force, the General Assembly passed legislation to eliminate certain reporting requirements for municipalities and agencies (PAs 97-162 and 97-244), but these focus on reducing the work, not necessarily the paper, involved in preparation.

Hawaii has a law declaring “it is the goal of the state to reduce by not less than 25% the amount of office paper generated by all state and county agencies by January 1, 1995, through source reduction.” The law set a five-year deadline. Counties are free to adopt solid waste reduction goals that are higher (Ha. Rev. Stat. Ann. 342g-3).

Illinois' Office of Pollution Prevention in the state Environmental Protection Agency produces suggestions on reducing paper consumption at http://www.epa.state.il.us/p2/p2-at-work.html.

The California Integrated Waste Management Board maintains a website on how to establish a paper reduction campaign at http://www.ciwmb.ca.gov/BizWaste/OfficePaper/Campaign.htm.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has its own Paper Less campaign, focusing on photocopying. In less than a year, the agency achieved its goal of reducing consumption at its offices by 15%, saving $100,000 in avoided paper purchases. In 1994, its Waste Wise program encouraged voluntary efforts to conserve resources and protect the environment. As of 1995, over 500 organizations were participating. See http://www.epa.gov/wastewise/images/ww-report.txt.

CORPORATE EFFORTS

The authors of Paper Cuts: Recovering the Paper Landscape cite Bank of America, United Parcel Service, and Procter and Gamble as leaders in reducing paper consumption. Bank of America reduced its paper consumption by 25% in two years using online reports and forms, email, double-sided copying, and lighter-weight paper. The bank reduced packaging, replaced hard copy documents with electronic versions, and eliminated forms. It uses laser letterhead that is not customized with individual names, titles, or addresses. Employees use software to customize personal information and update it as necessary, eliminating wasted stationery. By changing from 20- to 15-pound paper for ATM receipts, it saved an estimated $500,000. Since 1995, the photocopiers it purchases have a double-sided copying feature.

By recycling 61% of its paper, the company saves about $500,000 in waste hauling fees. The bank also purchases paper containing recycled content. Through centralized purchasing, it maximizes leverage with suppliers and tracks their environmental commitments.

United Parcel Service (UPS) describes its recycling and source reduction efforts at http://www.community.ups.com/community/causes/initiatives/reduction.html. The company uses recycled paper for its forms, envelopes, and notices and reusable envelopes and bags in its sorting operation. The conversion to handheld computers that electronically record delivery information saves paper.

OTHER ORGANIZATIONS

Earlham College in Indiana has established a white paper recycling service that includes a paper reuse program, described as the easiest and most cost-effective way to reduce paper consumption. Details are described at http://word.cs.earlham.edu/issues/XII/041798/news1012603a.html.

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