#167 Fourteen Tips to Help You Go Paperless

Adventures in Sustainable Living Podcast


Episode 167


How to Go Paperless


Most people never realize that paper usage is directly related to a nation’s wealth. The US and most European countries rank the highest in the world for paper usage. And this of course has a significant impact on the environment. Although it is impossible to calculate just how many trees are cut down each year for paper, estimates range between 4 billion and 8 billion. 


Some of that paper usage is due to food packaging and other necessities. But there are ways that we can reduce our paper usage and perhaps even go paperless. As is typically the case, it is a matter of changing our habits. And that is the focus of this episode which is tips and tricks to go paperless. 


So join me for E167 Fourteen Tips to Help You Go Paperless



Welcome back everyone to the Adventures in Sustainable Living Podcast. This is your host Patrick and this is E167 How to Go Paperless.  


First order of business is the sustainability question of the week.  And that is: 


How many pieces of paper does the average home throw away every year?  


So, stayed tuned to the end to find out that answer because this episode focuses on how to go paperless.  


Second order of business is the good news story of the week.  


It is unfortunate that wildlife trafficking is the third-most lucrative illegal trade in the world. And countries that have weak enforcement tend to be hotbeds for poaching with elephants and rhinos at the top of the list. The good news is that two young software engineers are using their talents to modernize anti-poaching efforts in India buy using some rather sophisticated apps and tools. 


The challenge is that most agencies around the world rely on hand written paper records written from memory in order to prosecute criminals. The high level of digitalization allows rangers to track and analyze patterns of criminal behavior which allows courts to rapidly process wildlife crimes. 


The suite of tools developed by these engineers allows for court case monitoring, communication management, wildlife death monitoring, real time wildlife tracking, seasonal movements of animals, past records of violence against animals, and much more. Data is also used to predict future incidents of human-wildlife conflict. 


Never has there been such a high level of technology applied to wildlife conservation. So for this week, a hats off and a round of applause to the Leopard Tech Labs in India. 


And now let’s move on to this weeks episode. 


You know there are so many things that we do as a matter of habit. And despite all of my efforts to live off the grid, be sustainable, and utilize as few resources as possible, I still find things in my life where I can make improvements. It is almost as if I have an “ah ha” moment and then ask myself “Why do I continue to do it that way?”


Ones of the things that I love do is cook. In fact, as much as I love cooking, and traveling, if I plan to go live in another country for a few months, one of the first things I figure out is how I am going to be able to cook for myself. I even take a certain amount of my personal cookware. 


I am always trying new recipes or new combinations of spices for the same old dish.  Because of this my personal recipe book now contains over 300 recipes. It is the accumulation of years of cooking, searching the internet for new things to try, and keeping notes on things such as bread making experiments. And of course wherever I go I always take my recipe book with me. 


About 6 or 7 years ago I was visiting one of my sisters in Tennessee. I had been there for a couple of days and on one afternoon we were sitting in her house not doing a lot. She was reading and I pulled out my recipes and was writing down a new one I had come across and placing it in my index card box. At the time, my recipe book consisted of a couple of hundred 3 inch by 5 inch index cards and I had them nicely organized in a small box. 


My sister looked over and asked me what I was working on. I proudly said it is my recipe book. She ask to see it so I handed her this small, well organized box with a couple of hundred index cards. She laughed hysterically. Just at that moment I was  slightly offended because I had put so much work into this recipe book over the years. 


When I asked her what was so funny, she simply asked, “Why on earth are you doing this? You could go digital you know!” That was a ah-ha moment for me. I promptly found a nice notebook app to go on my iPad and began the slow process of typing in all of my recipes. Knowing it was going to take me a couple of months to make that transition, from that point on anything new went into the iPad notebook app and I was no longer using a card made of paper stock. 


That was actually the beginning of my going paperless. And yet just the other day I came home after purchasing a new backpack and filed away my paper receipt. Annette said “You know you have the option of having them email you a receipt so that you don’t have to keep track of a piece of paper. I then thought about all the files I have on my computer so that I don’t have to keep track of stacks of paper. I then made another file just for receipts. Whenever I purchase something I will just get an email receipt instead of paper. Yet another little thing I can change. 


Since that time there are other things in my life that have gotten my attention. As I continue my seemingly never ending process of cleaning out my storage shed, I realized just how many boxes of paper I have stored away. It is mostly the accumulation of school notebooks and various financial records such as bank statements and tax records as far back as 25 years ago. Of course this was before the boom of the digital age but it just further emphasizes a good point, that being the amount of paper we use. 


The point of these examples is simply to emphasize all the small things we do day to day that we never think about. And as I have so often said even the smallest little thing makes a difference. 


Now maybe in our world the use of some paper will always be necessary. For example, food packaging. But at present approximately 1.4 billion trees end up in the landfill mostly due to product packaging and paper waste. And that is only in the United States. 


Now to be fair, let’s first look at the source of the resources that are used to make paper, at least in the US. Over 400 metric tons of paper are produced every year in the form of paper and other paper products. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the resources that are used include the following: 


-About 1/3 comes from recycled paper

-Another 1/3 comes from sawmills in the form of chips and scraps left over from producing wood products 


-The last 1/3 comes from trees that are cut specifically for paper. Many of those trees are grown specifically for that purpose so at least in part this is a renewable resource. Overall, in the US about 42 million trees are cut each year and 1.9 billion trees are planted. This huge difference makes up for the fact that trees have to be a minimal size in order to cut them for paper products. 


If you break this down even further, the numbers are truly staggering. Every second we lose about 1 football field’s worth of trees. On a global basis around 42 million trees are cut down every single day. Now this happens for a variety of reasons but in this episode we are looking only at paper consumption.  


On a global basis 55% of our paper consumptions goes toward packaging and wrapping, 26% toward writing and printing, 8% for sanitary purposes, and the last 11% goes for newsprint and miscellaneous. 


China leads the world for paper production and the US is in second place. At any given time there are about 4 trillion paper documents in the US alone. 


So you can start to appreciate the amount of deforestation that is taking place simply because of our paper use. And as is typical, and sorry folks for once again being critical of my home country, the US alone is responsible for 33% of global deforestation. But never fear, out of sight out of mind. Most of that deforestation takes place in Brazil, Malaysia, and Indonesia. 


Present estimates is that there are about 3 trillion trees on the planet. We plant 1.15 billion every year but consume 15.3 billion annually. Present estimates is that our planet will be devoid of trees in another 200 years. 


Now I know very well there is sometimes not a lot we can do about what big business and big government is doing. But, it is completely plausible for the average person to truly make a difference. And where you can do that by simply making the decision to become a paperless home. This is not only an eco-conscious decision but it will also be a game-changer for down sizing, space management and personal efficiency. And I am going to give you a number of tips to help you do just that. 


1) Make the commitment to not use any more paper. 


Becoming a paperless home is going to be a process. It is not going to happen over night. It is the same principle as becoming a plastic free home. You first have to make the commitment to not bring home any more plastic. The same is true for becoming paperless. Make the commitment to just not use any more paper.  Then you can work from there.


2) Make digital notes and lists


The second easiest thing to do is to start making digital notes and lists. Almost every electronic device we have has some sort of note taking function. If you, there are an abundance of note and notebook apps that can solve this challenge.  For example, as I said before I have this simple notebook app on my iPad that has all of my recipes, and now I am up to over 300 documents. Other examples are grocery lists, to do list, and reminders. All of this can easily be digitized.   


3) Recycle and reuse


If need be, have a specific recycle bin to encourage family members to recycle paper. This goes right along with eco-friendly paper disposal. If you need to print something and it is not critical for it to be completely clean, then reuse the blank side of a piece of paper that has print on the other side. 


4) Digitize all your personal documents


Think in terms of bills, receipts, and legal papers. You should take advantage of all the latest scanning technology and convert all the paper bills and receipts around your home to digital. You can then categorize these documents for easy organizations and retrieval and store them in your personal database. 




5) E-Bills and Statement 


Switch to electronic billing and statements. Now this may take a little effort depending on your personal situation. But every organization that I pay something to every month sends me an electronic statement or I have them linked to may bank account and payment is set on autopay for the same date every month. Now I don’t even have to think about it. 


Once you are signed up for an e-billing service you can often access your financial information online in real time. This also makes it easier to monitor your accounts, correct any discrepancies, and plan your budget. This digital decluttering is a streamlined, efficient way to handle your financial affairs. 


6) Use e-signature software


What you need here is some sort of technology that allows a legally valid digital signature. Companies such as DocuSign offers digital signatures for contracts and legal documents. Not only does this save paper but it also saves the time and resources from having to physically appear at a specific location. It also improves security by keeping documents electronically stored and eliminating the need for a paper document. 


7) Online banking and electronic payments


This is a fantastic way to organize your personal finances. It reduces the need for paper-based transactions such as checks and bank statement. A mobile deposit app eliminates the need to even drive to a bank and make a deposit. This also saves you time and gas expenses. 


Online banking also gives you immediate access to all of your accounts. You can transfer funds, pay bills, track you spending and plan your budget more efficiently. This is not only more eco-friendly but it also makes you financially more efficient. 


For example, since I have been self employed for over 20 years all of my records are now in digital format. All of my yearly business records, bank records, tax returns and invoicing are now is digital format. I can almost instantly find records from 10 years ago. Trust me, it is a fantastic way to handle your finances. 


8) Customize your mail preferences


What this means is minimizing your junk mail. By doing so, you can be in more control of what actually reaches your mailbox so that what you get is what you need and want. This not only declutters your mailbox but reduces paper waste. This is a great way to have a more organized living space and be more eco friendly.  


9) Use digital calendars 


Instead of the old fashioned paper notebook, use a digital calendar. Most electric devices have some sort of calendar function. This is something I use all the time. It has been years since I have purchased any sort of paper calendar. 


This sort of scheduling not only keeps you organized but you can also share your schedule and customize reminders. If you do not have a calendar app, then get one. You can also use Google calendar and Microsoft Outlook. But the key here is to synchronize across all of your devices which will ensure you have real-time access no matter where you are. 


10) Convert to e-books and digital reading


I know a lot of people who still prefer to have a printed book in their hand. At times I do see the usefulness of this depending on the material you are reading. But for the most past I gave up print books years ago. I purchase only digital books and now have over 250 books on my iPad. I of course take my iPad when I travel and never have a shortage of things to read. Not to mention it is highly compact and portable. Only the other hand, I could never take 250 printed books onto a plane when I go on vacation. 


11) Have a paperless kitchen


Yes it is possible to even have a paperless kitchen. Mostly that means ditching the paper towels. While this may seem like an impossible task, it is easier than you think. We have not purchases paper towels for about two years. We purchased cloth towels for light weight cleaning and food drainage. We use Swedish dish towels for dishes. We cut up old clothes into sizable squares that are used for cleaning up the really nasty stuff. All of these can of course be placed in the laundry and reused. It is so much easier than you think.  


12) Educate everyone in the household 


This is key to your success for a paperless home. Everyone must be on the same page. Make sure everyone is on board with all of your eco-friendly plans. 


13) Track your progress


This is also important for your success. It is important to reevaluate your progress on a regular basis and incorporate new strategies. 


14) Consistency is the key


And as always consistently is the key to success.  This is the case with any sort of sustainable transition. Take it one step at a time. Do something new each week and before you know it you will be completely paperless. 


The Great Paper Purge


Think of going paperless as the great paper purge. Most people will sit back and look at what is going on in the world and think there is nothing they can do that will make a difference. But there actually is a lot we can do as individuals and the great paper purge is great place to start.  


Did you know that there are over 300 billion paper receipts printed each year. That equals 180,000 tons of paper. The environmental cost of these paper receipts is 3 million trees, 9 billion gallons of water, 302 million pounds of solid waste, and 4 billion pounds of CO2, Furthermore it costs merchants millions of dollar to process which translates into increased cost for consumers.


There are over 220 million people still reading print magazine. 


There is approximately 560 million tons of junk mail distributed in the US alone. About 60% of that goes to the landfill and is never recycled. It is estimated that 15% to 20% of all paper in our landfills is junk mail. 


And these are only three examples of the tremendous amount of waste involved in paper production. 


Imagine for a moment that all of your important documents are digitized and accessible anytime, anywhere. Imagine if the only mail you received was truly important and needed correspondence. Imagine only having e-bills and online banking and how that would increase your financial management and personal efficiency. 


By going paperless you are joining the great paper purge and taking one more step toward a more sustainable future for this planet. You are taking one more step to reduce resource consumption and reducing waste. You are also teaching others to do the same by setting an example. 


This is not about doing something new. It is about taking advantage of the technology we presently have and embracing a sustainable lifestyle that values simplicity and environmental conservation. B doing so you are also thinking upstream and solving yet another environmental problem before it gets out of control. And that is how we start to build a sustainable future.


The list goes on and on about the things we can do to be more sustainable. I know it can seem discouraging at times. But you have to start somewhere. So pick one. And maybe you can start with the great paper purge. 


So I am going to round off this episode with the sustainability question of the week which fits right in this this topic. 


How many pieces of paper does the average home throw away every year?  


Every US household throws away 13,000 pieces of paper every year.


So that rounds off this episode for this week. Once again, be sure to take advantage of the resources at the end of the transcript. As always I try to provide a good learning experience with each episode. 


Until next week, this is your host Patrick sighing off. Always remember to live sustainably because this is how we build a better future.  





Two Young Engineers Use Their Talents to Stop Poaching in India


Three Reasons Why Merchants Should Move to Digital Receipts


The Paperless Office


Seven Easy Tips for Finally Going Paperless


9 Ways to Create a Paperless Home


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