There are many relatively new technologies available that can make life easier while also conserving resources, but they can go unnoticed in the blind spots of our established ways of doing things. My “aha” moment came when I stopped printing my writing notes. Truth be told, my decision to stop printing them was born more of thriftiness than a desire to be environmentally responsible. I was out of toner and reluctant to spend the $30 to buy a new cartridge. So, instead of printing out all the notes for the article I was writing, I simply opened two windows on my computer monitor so that I could scroll through the notes while writing. Voila, I saved a bunch of time, paper, and money!
Although a thoughtful friend pointed out that smartphones and computers are ever-increasing their energy footprint, I still think that using the latest technological advances to minimize the amount of paper, ink, and energy used to print on paper, is smart. Not only does this conserve the resources needed to produce paper and ink, but it also reduces the amount of paper we send to landfills. Paper accounts for the largest percentage of all waste sent to landfills, and although it’s recyclable, it can only be recycled a few times before becoming too weak to be useful. Of course, it’s best also to be mindful and not frivolous about the energy we use running our devices.
As this paperless note-taking turned into a habit, I really enjoyed not having stacks of paper to regularly throw in the recycling bin. I also enjoyed not having to buy paper and toner as frequently. As there are often secondary benefits to conserving resources, my new habit both reduced waste and cut down on my resource use, which also saved me money. Win-win. So, I wondered what other opportunities new technology offers that helps use less paper, and I found some clever solutions.
Here are some of the ways that technology can help reduce waste — try incorporating some of these innovations into your life, and see how it decreases what you put into your trash or recycling bin!
1. Digital Signatures: I have started using the website HelloSign when I get a contract or another document that I need to fill out and sign. It’s far more efficient than printing out a document, completing it, and scanning it back into a file to email.
2. Double-sided printing: When I do have to print something, I have my printer set to automatically print on both sides of the paper. It cuts in half the amount of paper needed! There are other ways you can get more out of your printed page, such as adjusting your margins, reducing font size, and making sure you’re not printing unnecessary pages.
3. Online Calendars: When I was growing up, our big calendar hanging in the kitchen was the nerve center of our lives. But in my family, I use a Google calendar that I can access from my computer, phone or tablet, and which my husband can check on his own devices while he’s at work (I also have friends who swear by the Cozi app). True, a calendar might seem like a small savings, but with my digital calendar I can also say “no thanks” to the little appointment cards that my hair salon and doctor’s office gives me.
4. Online Billing: Being able to view and pay bills on my laptop has saved in so many ways. I was able to opt for paperless billing from my utility providers — less paper coming through the mail, piling up on my hall table, and fewer checks to write and envelopes to mail back. And if I need to double-check my bill from several months back, or add up my expenses for taxes, I don’t have to dig through stacks of old bills for the information I need.
5. Emailed receipts: When I learned that most printed receipts are coated with BPA, which renders them unrecyclable by most facilities, I started really valuing stores that offer you the option to get a receipt via email. Many national stores give shoppers this option. I was particularly happy to learn that CVS, which used to give foot-long receipts for even a single item purchased, has started a digital receipt program. With the number of CVS stores in the country, these paperless receipts can make a significant impact in cutting down on waste, and minimizing the use of those nasty chemicals that coat thermal paper.
6. Virtual Banking: I love the ever-evolving suite of services banks are now offering that cut down on the use of printed paper. My credit union no longer requires you to fill out a deposit slip; instead, you key your transaction into a kiosk at the teller. And instead of having to drive to the bank to deposit a check, I can use the bank’s app to deposit the check by photographing the check on my mobile device. I can only imagine the reams of paper and cartridges of toner that these banks are saving by incorporating these technologies into their services.
These days, I do my best to patronize those companies that make efforts to be agile with their use of resources. Indeed, we vote for the world we want with our dollars — whether we intend to or not — so I do what I can and encourage you to do the same!