How effective is saving paper?

by Badhri on Jun 13, 2008      Category: Environment Tags: environment waste recycle trees paper

I head an employee-driven CSR team in my company in India. I get numerous suggestions about saving paper by replacing paper cups with ceramic mugs and re-using papers printed on one-side for "personal" print-outs.

Though I don't oppose these ideas, I have my reservations about their efficacy. Following are the questions that have surfaced to my mind repeatedly.

- Trees cut for making papers have to be replanted because, we will run out of papers otherwise. We have no idea about the number of trees we are losing because of making papers. We also don't seem to be running out of papers. So, in the end we don't know if we are really causing a significant depletion of trees. May be we are, but is there data?

- The only way to cut lesser trees without compromising the supply of paper is to recycle paper. India seems to have a defunct system of recycling wastes. If we are indeed degrading environment by cutting a lot of trees, it is possible that this trend can be more significantly minimized by putting a system in place that recycles most of the paper wastes when compared to small initiatives in individual companies to save papers.

Of course we are better off taking these small initiatives irrespective of the status of recycling, but my concern is, we have no way to measure how many trees we end up saving. What if the contribution of 100 companies with an average of 100 employees actually comes to saving 5% of trees, while setting up a recycling plant that can recycle paper in the neighborhood (companies, homes, schools any and building where paper is used) can reduce the number of trees cut of paper by 50%?

Simply put, how can one make this initiative measurable? Is there a comprehensive and accepted research that can answer my questions?

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nitiniitk's picture

Very important question Badhri. I would love to know more facts on this. But more broadly speaking, I think being eco-friendly can be a life-style choice, where instead of having to rationally look for numbers every time, one always chooses the more benign solution, irrespective of how big or small is its actual impact.

Badhri's picture

True, however, if the impact is small why go through the pain of doing a full-fledged campaign, replacing all the paper cups to mugs, etc.? I would rather try to focus on issues that we can actually make a difference. On the other hand, if the impact is really big, there is a big incentive to push for making it a life-style choice. Don't you agree?

sejal's picture

I was really impressed when I noticed no paper cups being used in Wipro offices. Imagine, if an organization as big as wipro, starts using paper cups in all it's offices and say there are avg 5000 employees in office, each one uses one paper cup a day. Counting total 10 offices, it would be 50000 paper cups a day! Say for a month, it would come to - 150000? Do you see the point?

Another thing that you have missed is, the resources utilized during production. I don't possess enough knowledge about the paper-making process, but I'm sure, the factories would be using some sort of fuel to run, and also there would be some emissions in the air. Now if we cut down the production, we save trees, fuel and reduce air pollution.

Though recycling is no doubt a good idea, but that too would be consuming some resources. It may not pollute air as much as fresh paper production would, but there would definitely be some amount of emissions in the air. To me, overall the best suitable idea is, to reduce the consumption itself.

I am just thinking aloud. I may have been a bit hazy in putting my points with correct information. Experts comments are invited :)

Badhri's picture

Sejal,
In the end saving the environment is about trade-off between using resources. Let us take your own example 150000 cups in one month. How many times will it be washed? I have been to wipro, and I am sure it is washed more than twice per day. But let us assume - Once? I don't think any special care is taken to save water while washing. How many litres of water is wasted per month? If we use paper cups, recycle it, imagine how many litres of water we would save! :)

Anyway my precise point is to avoid such debates! Mainly because I SUBSCRIBE TO THE IDEA OF SAVING PAPER AT THE OFFICE. I AM NOT AGAINST IT. I am just looking for a way to measure what we save. Thanks for the inputs though!

mynk's picture

I am glad u posted this. I have always had a vague idea. More than paper cups the paper towel used in offices bothers me as u merely need to use a kerchief instead. So let's see why it is worth -

http://ngopost.org/story.php?title=YouTube_-_Why_Recycle_Paper-1

I would so agree with you Badhri about the water used in dish washer or such - I would be more worried about the detergent pollution! :)

Paper industry beats this all with power, water, etc. I think it is definitely worth it!

And not just recycling - ensuring that u don't take incessant prints - use an e-copy if possible. Again the power used in a laptop is less than a hard copy unless the hard copy is shared extensively! :) For power we can hope that there would be alternatives for trees - naaaaaaaah!!!

sejal's picture

Badhri, I surely missed your point of water being wasted for washing cups! Thinking forward with this new input, if given a choice between water and trees, I would pick up trees, as they are the source of water. Also Parul's comment on http://ngopost.org/story.php?title=YouTube_-_Why_Recycle_Paper-1#c750 suggest that recycling is always not the best solution to rely on. In all, it's about choosing lesser the two evils. About water wastage while washing cups, I think it can also be reused in toilet flushes (and it's actually being put into practice by some companies!)

Nonetheless, You have raised a good point and I shall try find a way if I can get my company admin folks keep check on the amount of water used by housekeeping people for washing cups.

mynk's picture

Hey Sejal from my understanding the amount of water used in making/recycling paper is very high and still out does the dish washing pollution wise as well as power consumption wise... :)

Badhri's picture

For whoever visits this post. For the save of a ease, I have made a collage of all the data presented and posted up in my blog as a post

http://overtea.blogspot.com/2008/06/saving-paper-saving-trees-few-answer...

pulkit's picture

@Badhri et al: I recently wrote a post, encompassing the facts on most of the issues raised here (including water consumption in paper making, the recycling myth), with considerable emphasis on quantitative analysis: http://pulzinponderland.wordpress.com/2010/01/05/howd-you-like-your-tea-....

Unless we consume one or more liters of water to wash a mug/reusable cup, it emerges far greener than a paper cup.

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