Paper & Waste
Improve Your Company's Paper Choices
What's at stake
Despite the ubiquity of digital communications, paper use and over-packaging is growing, and so are their impacts on the environment. Producing and disposing of paper and other packaging has large and wide-ranging effects – from the forest to the manufacturing facility to the landfill.
Producing paper is a highly resource-intensive process:
- The paper industry is this country's largest single consumer of wood. Worldwide, over 40% of the industrial wood harvest is used for paper. Conversion of native forests to monoculture plantations is a serious environmental concern, as is the protection of endangered forests.
- Paper is the largest industrial user of water in the United States.
- The pulp and paper industry is the third largest consumer of energy in the U.S., using 11.5% of all energy in the industrial sector.
Paper is also the largest single component of solid waste, accounting for over 25% of waste sent to landfills and incinerators (after recycling). Among other problems, the decomposition of paper in landfills produces methane, a greenhouse gas with 25 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide.
The good news for companies that use paper is that is you have a big opportunity to make a difference by making better paper choices.
What companies can do
- Use less paper. The best thing you can do is use less paper to begin with, thereby avoiding all the impacts of paper throughout the lifecycle. This step has the added advantage of saving money. Use our Paper Calculator to see the resources you can save.
- Maximize recycled content. Switching to recycled paper extends the overall fiber supply, thus reducing demand for wood and pressure on forests. Use our Paper Calculator to see how increasing recycled content saves resources.
- Be selective about virgin fiber. Even if 30% of the fiber in your paper is postconsumer recycled, 70% is still virgin. It’s important to know where that fiber is coming from. Look for suppliers that use the best forest management practices, and end the use of fiber that threatens endangered forests.
- Evaluate supplier performance [PDF]. Work with suppliers whose mills are the cleanest. Look for advanced bleaching technologies, efficient energy and water use, low releases to the environment and steady improvement over time.
- Recycle, and promote recycling. Recycle your used paper and packaging, and encourage your employees and customers to do the same.
Resources to help
- Environmental Defense Fund’s Paper Calculator will help you quantify the benefits of better paper choices. The Paper Calculator shows the environmental impacts of different papers across their full lifecycle.
- This Paper Supplier Evaluation Form [PDF] can be used to begin a dialogue with suppliers about their environmental performance.
- EDF’s printable signs strategically placed near copiers and printers can help you cut paper use in the office.
- What's in Your Paper offers a range of qualitative resources for reducing the environmental impact of paper choices. Its "Purchaser Toolkit" can help organizations create a model purchasing plan, quantify the value of 3rd party paper certification, and identify strategies to reduce paper use.
- COMPASS is a software tool that corporate packaging designers can use to assess the environmental impacts of packaging designs and inform decisions about packaging changes.
- Environmental Defense Fund’s Q&A [PDF] on the environmental benefits of recycled paper answers many common questions about switching to recycled paper.
- EDF’s Tips for a Greener Office offers more detailed information about how to trim paper use in the office, and save money too.
- Citigroup: improving office paper use
- Norm Thompson Outfitters: recycled content in catalogs
- United Parcel Service: reusable shipping containers
- Starbucks: recycled content in coffee cups
- McDonald’s: reducing packaging, conserving resources
- The State of the Paper Industry report by the Environmental Paper Network, is a comprehensive assessment of the environmental impacts of paper production and disposal, and what companies can do to avoid those impacts.
- The Common Vision for Transforming the Paper Industry is a consensus statement by leading environmental groups of goals for transforming the way in which paper is produced and consumed.
- The Environmental Paper Network is a group of environmental organizations dedicated to improving the environmental performance of the paper industry. The site offers useful information, resources, and links for paper purchasers.
- Conservatree offers a comprehensive listing of environmentally preferable papers, as well as information about reducing the environmental impacts of paper production and disposal.
- The Sustainable Packaging Coalition offers information and resources specifically related to packaging users.
- What's In Your Paper helps with paper options and transitioning to environmentally superior paper.
- Catalog Choice - Control the catalogs you receive in the mail.