This summer, a renovation project forced me to confront my home office, which had become a repository for old mail, work papers, school projects from my kids, and other junk. Much of it was stuff I no longer needed, and it took me many, many trips lugging it all down to the recycle bin.
While I was happy to know that most of my paper waste would be recycled, — I had to trash a few things — I’m well aware that paper can only be recycled a few times before the fibers become too weak to make good-quality paper again.
Stuffing my curbside bin with the accumulation of paper was definitely an eye-opening experience. Turns out I use a lot of paper! As I dumped the last stack of shredded bills into my compost bin (shredded documents aren’t accepted for recycling in my area), I vowed to reduce my use of paper as much as I reasonably could.
Thinking of the many ways I use paper, I came up with some great reusable options.
1. Dry-erase or chalk board
I’m a big fan of leaving notes for myself or my family. Previously, my back door had been regularly adorned with sticky notes reminding me to run a certain errand or to send something with my kids to school. Instead of sticky notes, I’ve now mounted a small dry-erase board to the back door, with a pen tied to it with a string so it doesn’t stray. It works just as well to alert me with important reminders as I’m walking out the door. Use a chalk-board for a more rustic look.
2. List app
Along with notes, I’m also a big list-maker. I used to pride myself on my use of scrap paper or junk-mail envelopes to make my to-do lists more eco-friendly. But I’ve recently switched to a list app on my smartphone. (Right now I’m using Google Keep, but I’m always on the lookout for even better options!) Since switching away from paper, I like that I don’t lose my lists or accidentally leave them at home, and I can use the free app to make as many lists as I want.
3. Reusable baking-sheet liners
Parchment paper is a cook’s best friend, keeping cookies from sticking to a baking sheet, or protecting a pan while roasting vegetables. But because the parchment ends up covered with grease and food residue, it’s definitely not recyclable. Silicone baking mats are a great alternative. They have the same nonstick quality, and can be used in other ways, too, such as to cover a work surface for kneading dough.
4. Beeswax food wraps
Another use of parchment or waxed paper is to wrap sandwiches or other foods for a picnic or just to store in the fridge. Now that I have beeswax-coated food wrap I can use that instead of wax paper, and just wipe the food wrap clean to reuse it.
5. Fabric totes
Few things are as appealing as a beautifully wrapped gift, but I’ve always felt like gift-wrap was incredibly wasteful. I’ve taken to sewing up simple pouches with scraps of fabric. Tied with a ribbon — also reusable — they are just as appealing as wrapping paper and can be used again and again! My hope is that one day, the recipient of one of my gift totes, will give me a gift in the very same pouch!
6. Digital form app
I’m constantly being asked to fill out forms, either for work, or my kids’ schools and clubs. I hate the wasteful and time-consuming processing of printing out the forms, filling them out, and scanning or photographing them to submit them. So much easier is never having to deal with a paper form at all by using a web-based program like PDF Escape to enter information and even sign documents.
7. E-card or plant-able seed paper
When I got my first emailed holiday card from a friend, initially I thought they were simply being lazy or cheap by not mailing actual cards. But now I know that even though e-cards do require some energy, it’s more energy efficient to send an e-card than a paper card: No paper, no fuel burned to take it to the post office or for the postal trucks and planes to deliver it to its recipient. E-cards can be as thoughtful as the most carefully chosen greeting card if you explore some unconventional e-card services for just the right sentiment. But when only a snail-mail greeting will do, consider a note or card on plant-able seed paper, which can be planted in the yard where it’ll decompose and yield a crop of lovely flowers.
Remember all those papers I mentioned lugging down to the recycling? So many of them were utility bills, credit card statements, and other paperwork — much of which were still in their sealed envelopes since I pay my bills online anyway. For the longest time I’ve harbored the belief that I need paper copies of all my bills. But this is going to be the year I finally convert to paperless billing and statements from all of my utilities, banks, and other services. My mail pile is shrinking at the very thought!
With these ideas, I think I’ll be able to dramatically cut down on the disposable paper items in my home. Hopefully next time I do a purge, I’ll have way less paper to discard!