If you look in the trash can or – let’s hope — recycling bins at many businesses, you’ll probably find a ton of paper. Paper is one of the most common waste products at most businesses, and thus one of the biggest sustainability opportunities many small businesses have.
Cutting down on paper waste isn’t as easy as you’d think. For one thing, paper itself is relatively cheap, so business owners might feel like there’s little economic incentive to reduce it. Moreover, it’s hard to change perception that paper use has little environmental impact. But that’s not true: Recycling 1 ton of paper can save 7,000 gallons of water and enough energy to power the average U.S. home for six months, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Reducing paper use in the first place, then, can save a lot more.
Cutting down on paper waste should be viewed as high priority on your sustainability checklist, just like saving energy or reducing water use. Here are four ways small businesses can cut down on their paper use.
1. Use printers that allow for double-sided printing. You can halve the amount of paper used by printing documents on both sides of paper. Some laser printers offer double-sided or “duplex” printing as a standard feature so you can easily set it up through your computer’s printer option features as the default mode. Others make it more tedious or impossible. Check into this capability before purchasing a new printer.
2. Repurpose used paper into notepads. Despite your best efforts, odds are you still have plenty of paper printed on one side that goes to waste. Collect this paper over time and turn it into small notepads for scratch paper. Many copy shops and office supply stores offer this service for less than a dollar per notepad, or you can bind them yourself by purchasing padding compound.
3. Cut down on junk mail. Junk mail to businesses accounts for a huge amount of needless paper waste. There are several strategies for stopping junk mail from being delivered to a business, which we’ve outlined before.
4. Go “paperless.” More businesses that traditionally rely on lots of paper for transactional purposes are finding ways to greatly reduce it. Some mortgage lenders, for instance, now put loan documents on jump drives and allow for electronic signatures to avoid printing out dozens of pages. Other businesses make PDFs of documents they want to save electronically rather than printing them out.
Of course, you still need paper for various things. So when you do buy paper products for your business, look for paper with a high post-consumer recycled content, such as 60 percent or even 100 percent. This greatly reduces the number of trees cut down, gallons of water used and amount of carbon dioxide emitted to make that paper.