Tag Archives: reduce

Paper chase

Lately, I’ve been putting in a lot of energy into paper. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “[p]aper makes up 28 percent of municipal solid waste (MSW), more than any other material Americans throw away.” Although, according to the hand dryer I used at the rest stop the other day, paper makes up 40 percent of land fills.  I am not sure if MSW does not all end up in landfills, and if that accounts for the disparity in percentages, but, in any case, paper makes up a lot of our waste.  Fortunately, paper seems to be the easiest thing to try and keep out of landfills.  Unfortunately, it also accumulates so quickly! Between the cereal and pasta boxes, mail, business papers, packing and wrapping materials, toilet paper rolls, catalogues and little bits of random paper is tough to keep up with. Even with the outdoor composter and the worm composter (two different systems!) I almost can’t keep up with it. But I am trying.

I am conscientiously trying  to stop using paper as much as possible. Luckily for any future guests, I will not give up toilet paper, but I have stopped using paper napkins and drastically reduced my paper towel consumption.  My mom is not pleased.  And even though I really dislike doing dishes, I no longer buy paper plates.  Admittedly, it took a little while to get accustomed to cloth napkins for daily meals use, but it’s getting less weird with time. I didn’t even have to buy new cloth napkins. I’ve had some for years that sat lonely in the curio cabinet waiting to be used for the three to four dinner parties I might have a year. Now my husband and I use them regularly.

I have also tried to reduce my dry good purchases that come in cardboard boxes such as boxed rice mixes. The cardboard boxes I do end up buying, like cereal and tea boxes, I actually hand shred and take to either of my composters.  I am toying with the idea of making my own pasta.  So far this is ambition and optimism over reality and time, but pasta continues to account for one of my major boxed dry-good purchases, so I will continue to search for a solution.

I save tissue paper for either gift wrapping or packaging for shipped items. In fact, I seek out tissue paper from others. Whenever I am at a present-exchanging event, I go so far as to remove tossed tissue paper from the big plastic garbage bag and fold it up into neat squares that I can save for later.  It’s kind of weird, but most of the tissue is brand new.  People shop at the last minute, grab a gift bag and tissue from the store and “wrap” the present on the way to the party, barely bothering to unfold the tissue paper. I know this to be true because it is my husband’s inevitable method of purchasing gifts.

Mail continues to be a challenge even in this day and age.  I have switched over to paperless on those accounts that allow for it.  I’ve even tried those sites that are supposed to help reduce catalogues and junk mail, but they don’t work. The mail just keeps coming. In any case, I try to machine or hand shred it all, even the catalogues and magazines, to stick in one of my compost bins.  Letter mail gets to be particularly tedious because you have to remove the plastic windows from the envelopes since it won’t compost.  I even put some machine shredded magazines and catalogues aside for future packing material.   The pages are light-weight and colorful and work really well in place of foam peanuts or bubble wrap.

But even with all these efforts, it is still difficult to keep up with the paper.  One time I made recycled paper pots out of shredded cardboard.  They worked brilliantly and next year I plan to make bigger, better pots. But this was one additional use for the excess paper and maybe removed three boxes from the cycle.  There is still so much more.  Neither of my composters can keep up with it and I can only save so much for packing.  I can easily stick it in the recycling, but I feel that this is me being lazy and putting the burden on someone else.  Besides, I am not sure that it will not end up in the landfill anyway and I want to remove it from the system entirely.

Many municipalities have a composting program.  These are wonderful resources for any community, resulting in cheap or free compost for the residents and a convenient place to take your compostable items.  Sadly, my community does not have such a program.  One of the reasons that I took so long to put up this post is that I was sure I would be able to find a composting program in my area that I could dump off my excess paper.  What I found out, instead, is that if there are programs in my area, they don’t accept paper and they charge by the cubic yard to accept your waste.  And the municipal programs in my area restrict the drop-off to residents with purchased stickers, which does not mean me. So annoying.  As often happens when my desire to be both ecologically and financially responsible meet and disagree, I am a crossroads.  Even if I could find a place that accepted paper to compost, I might have to to spend money to get rid of it.

As I was researching local composting programs, I noticed that none of them actually encouraged using paper as composting material.  This was odd to me since I had been giving paper to my worms for quite a while.  I dug a little deeper to see what the deal was.  As to the harms and benefits, I ran across this post which provided a thoughtful answer to the question.  Basically, that guy doesn’t like it.  And his reasons made sense (that while it may compost, it lacks nutrients and may leach toxic chemicals into the compost, especially glossy magazines).  But he also goes on to say that rainwater, animal manure or scraps from produce are also not 100% free of chemicals. He also says that he doesn’t bother with paper because it can be recycled easily.  I tend disagree that just because it can be recycled it is actually getting recycled and that all the recovered material is being sold, but I have to admit I am not basing that on fact, but by a tendency to automatically believe in the inherent inefficiencies of any system. I looked through a few websites pretty thoroughly, including this one about the paper industry to soothe my skepticism.  However, I couldn’t find a straight answer about what percentage of paper that is purposefully recycled and bundled up and sent to a processing plant is actually used as a commodity to produce more paper.  There are only figures about the amount of paper consumed that is recovered, or the amount of paper in landfills,  which isn’t an accurate reflection of what I am after.

So what started out as a righteous, self-congratulatory post about the part I am playing in keeping paper out of landfills became a post full of questions and doubts.  Am I spending too much time thinking about paper? Am I doing the right thing by keeping it out of the landfill and trying to compost it? Does it even matter that I don’t buy pasta in boxes since I can throw it in recycling and have it end up  as a commodity that uses less energy to process than raw wood? I feel like my obsession with paper is kind of like a radish rose–kinda impressive but everyone wonders why the heck anyone would take the time to make a rose out of a radish in the first place. I will have to continue to give this some serious thought and continue to do research. In the mean time, I can always focus on plastic.

Thank you for reading my post.  Don’t forget you can visit my site at http://www.lifeimproved.org for other mind-blowing posts and perspectives–and some fluff.  As always, please feel free to share, quote, praise, and reflect kindly upon my blog!

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Don’t leave home without them

Many of us work hard to be conscientious about the environment at home. We take a lot of steps to reduce our consumption and our waste. And to recycle and reuse. But something weird happens when we leave our little biodomes. Maybe it’s because we don’t buy the supplies at the office, or take out the trash at the Starbucks. Or maybe it’s because it’s inconvenient and extra work to care enough. Or, quite simply, we forgot. I am not casting stones. I do this constantly and get really irritated with myself for not having a re-usable cup handy at coffee shops and for using disposable items at the office. This is especially frustrating to me because I really do put a lot of effort into these things at home. I mean, I hand tear the mail and cereal boxes for the composter, for Pete’s sake.

What I have realized, though, is that it is all about small transitions. My habits are much more eco-conscientious today than they were last month. And I am light years from the neanderthal I was a year ago. ( Irony Alert: Neanderthals were actually, probably pretty eco-friendly. Really, I just mean I used to buy a lot of paper plates and stuff). So every once and again I try a new eco-thing and eventually it just becomes habit.It just becomes part of your routine. But let’s not forget what happens when we leave home.

Let’s start with work. Our office spaces don’t always make it convenient to be green. Paper cups –or horror of horrors, styrofoam cups–are usually readily available. Sometimes there is no storage for our ceramic or reusable mugs. Or there is no where to wash the mug from time to time. Also, there is often just no culture for it. But it can start with you. This is when you hear some inspirational song in your head, like from Rocky.

If you are in management, think about getting a set of office mugs with your company logo. Encourage your employees to use them. One sneaky trick: take a while to stock up the paper cups to force people to use the office mugs. Or, think of creative contests where people are rewarded for using mugs. Do the same thing with re-usable plastic drinking glasses to encourage people to use those for water. Yes. Some people will complain about washing their own cups. But we are adults and can probably handle this task. Laziness is not a good excuse for all that waste and cost.

If you are a mere employee, then let the change start with you. Make it a point to bring your own cup/mug. Start a dialogue with your colleagues. No one wants to admit they don’t care about the environment. It’s like admitting that they hate puppies or that they just punched grandma. Maybe once you have converted (or shamed) some people into joining your I-guess-I-don’t-want-dolphins-to-die-and-the-world-to-go-dark-and-cold club, then you can talk to management about implementing a mug culture. You can event back it up with facts–not necessarily about dolphins dying–but about cost savings and stuff.

For example, in my small office space of 20 or so employees, let’s assume 3/4 of the people use at least one disposable cup a day, so that is 15 cups per day, multiplied by 253 ( rough, rough calculation of days in the year, minus weekends, minus holidays). That is 3795 cups per year. My office puchases these 16 oz. “foam” cups from Quill, an office supply company, that cost around $55 per 1000 (if you buy by the case). So even by the most conservative estimates, my small office is spending over $200 a year just in cups. And that’s for the cheap cups. My old office of roughly the same number of people bought those paper cups with the weird bubbly skin on the outside. The cost of providing those for an office for one year is over $400. Throw in the cost of post-it notes and legal pads, the costs of sending mail by post, and the costs of printing memos and other documents. If you are a business person, you know that these things add up. Someone who did a lot more work than I did put together this fabulous and startling article about going paperless. And, here’s another article covering things from coffee filters to water usage at the office.

The office is just one place in which we forget our good habits. Getting a latte or water when you are out and about is another. Did you know that roughly 250,000 plastic bottles are dumped every hour and that plastic bottles constitute close to 50% of recyclable waste in the dumps. Even worse,
it takes an average of 700 years to decompose in a landfill. ( Read about those and other statistics here). Now, I have gotten pretty good about brining a re-fillable water bottle with me, but I am just horrible about remembering a mug for my chais and lattes, and occasionally, my chai lattes. I make lots of excuses for myself: My husband took them all, they were all dirty, it’s not as big as a tall or grande latte so it’s not that good of a deal. These are all excuses. The truth is that I just don’t think of it. But, once again, getting into the habit can mean keeping the habit. So I just have to start. You, too! In the meantime, you can read this cool, slightly snarky article that reveals a lot about this issue. The authors are a lot cooler than I will ever be–they live in Portland, after all–but my message is the same: “‘Switching to a reusable mug carries with it the perception that it’s inconvenient only because it is different than the norm. Change is scary … But once commuter mugs become the norm … it’s no big deal. ‘I mean, sometimes you’re going to be out and not have a mug with you, … but if you have one in your car/bike/office, it becomes part of your normal routine’.”