Are We Consuming Less Paper?

One would think that with the advent of personal computers and digital files that we would be consuming way less paper than we did in, let’s say, 1960. It’s a nice thought that might help us to sleep better in our ignorance. I’m not against ignorance and we all participate in it to some degree. For example, I am ignorant of what my weight is today as I blithely pass by my bathroom scale. I am also blissfully unaware of how long that container of yogurt has been in the fridge.

But Americans have gotten too good at sticking our heads in the sand when it comes to our impact on the environment. We are pretty much here on earth trashing the place. In fact, the United States has 5% of the world’s population but…

  • We use 1/3 of the world’s paper
  • We create 1/2 of the world’s waste
  • Americans use more paper towels than anywhere in the world
  • We have increased our recycling rate but we have also increased our consumption of paper products
  • Many paper products that we use in restaurants are lined with plastic and therefore cannot be recycled


Summary Table and Graph (From EPA)

Here is some data from our paper consumption over time. I got this from the EPA and their sources, “The data below are from 1960 to 2015, relating to the total number of tons of paper and paperboard generated, recycled, composted, combusted with energy recovery and landfilled.”

Management Pathway196019701980199020002005201020142015
Combustion with Energy Recovery1508608,9309,7307,8004,7404,7404,450

Source: American Forest and Paper Association

You can see from the chart that our consumption of paper has gone way up even with more digital files being used. We, thankfully, are coming down from the height of paper use in 2000 but there is still a lot of room for us to improve.

Ways You Can Use Less Paper

1. Use cloth instead of paper towels

Americans consume 13 billion pounds of paper towels every year. It takes a lot of water and chemicals to make paper towels as the towel is made from pulp, bleach, and resin. We use paper towels to wipe up every smear, spill, and bit of grease but we rarely reach for fabric when most of us have it on hand in the form of those cute dish towels, wash clothes, and formal napkins. There is rarely a reason to buy paper towels.

2. Use one paper towel in the public rest room

My kids and I are big time shakers. I think the hand dryers are disgusting in rest rooms as bacteria and fecal matter can reintroduce themselves on your little one’s hands and yours. Eww.

Anyways, one paper towel will do you. Give your hands a shake and it they aren’t dry enough, use the method in the video below.

3. Junk Your Junk Mail

Junk mail is a big waste or out time and resources. Here’s how you can stop it:

  • To permanently opt-out of receiving credit card and insurance advertisements through mail, go to and fill out some details and then mail the material to get permanently free of stupid mail you would have just thrown away anyways. More ways can be found in a Huffington Post article here
  • Start thinking of your bank and credit card statements as junk and go digital. Some banks will even give you a monetary reward for doing so.
  • Rethink your magazine subscriptions. Do you and your family read each magazine from cover to cover? If not, unsubscribe immediately to save yourself some cash and some space on your side tables.

4. Let’s Get Digital, Digital

We, quite literally, have a room full of memories. Using the power of my almighty iPhone 7, I am a hobby photographer and on rare occasions I print a photo or two for framing. However, I do not buy frames every year for each new photo so I just update the frames I have with this year’s photos. Naturally I have a backstock of photos from yesteryear.

My mother-in-law is also quite the maven of photos. Every time we visit, which is often, we get an envelope of 15 of so photos from our last family get together. Most of our photo books are filled with these memories.

Lately, my husband and I have realized that we might not be able to keep up with the mass of photos. Because of this, we have been considering using a photo scanner like this one here, and putting the photos on Google Photos. This still doesn’t completely solve the problem of waste. Older photographs have hazardous chemicals which cannot be recycled whereas newer photographs may be used in recycling.

Another place your can go digital is with work and home documents. Google Drive can store all your forms for easy access. Important documents, like a deed, a will, or birth certificates should have a paper copy stored in a safe or in a safety deposit box.

5. Stop Buying Books

Seriously, go to your library. they’ll be happy to see you and you might just expand your horizons. I have not one, not two, but three degrees in English and I would be bankrupt if I tried to financially keep pace with my reading list. For more on this, read my post “Minimalism and Your Book Collection.”

Finally, Give Back to the Forest

There are far more ways to reduce your paper consumption but hopefully you can pick up one or two of the tips provided here. One last idea I’ll leave you with is planting trees to offset your carbon footprint. You can measure your individual or business’s carbon footprint here. However, the number may shock you. One way to get at the high number of trees you would need to plant is by using the search engine Ecosia. You can even add it to Google Chrome.

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