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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Green Business: Paper Use and Recycling

Resources to help businesses get started on the sustainability path.


Some Paper Facts

  • The average office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year.
  • The United States alone, which has less than 5% of the world's population, consumes 30% of the world's paper.
  • Over 40% of wood pulp goes toward the production of paper.
  • Printing and writing paper equals about one-half of U.S. paper production.
  • The costs of using paper in the office can run 13 to 31 times the cost of purchasing the paper in the first place.
  • Paper has a heavy environmental cost.
    • It takes more than 1½ cups of water to make one sheet of paper. That's nearly 47 gallons of water per ream of paper.
    • Over 40% of wood pulp goes toward the production of paper.
    • Reducing paper use reduces greenhouse gases: 40 reams of paper is like 1.5 acres of pine forest absorbing carbon for a year.

Rethink Your Paper Use

Citigroup determined that if each employee used double-sided copying to conserve just one sheet of paper each week, the firm would save $700,000 each year Bank of America cut its paper consumption by 25% in two years by increasing the use of on-line forms and reports, e-mail, double-sided copying, and lighter-weight paper

  • Print only when necessary
    • Preview documents before printing. Use the print preview to spot formatting errors and blank pages before you print. Proofread first, and use the spell/grammar tool to help avoid errors that can cause documents to be reprinted.
    • Print only the pages you need. If only a few pages of the document are needed, print only those pages instead of the whole report. Most software programs provide this option under the print function.
    • Promote a "think before you copy" attitude. Consider sharing some documents with co-workers. Print only the number of copies needed for the meeting, don't make extras.
  • Go electronic
    • Route memos and newsletters that employees should see, but do not need to keep. That way newsletters and other documents can be shared rather than copied.
    • Use revision features in word processing software. You can edit documents on screen instead of printing out drafts and making hand-written comments.
    • Send information electronically. Use e-mails instead of fax or mailed letters when possible. It's faster.
    • Fit more words onto each page (e.g., smaller font, narrower margins). Simply changing the default margins from 1.25" to 1" can reduce the amount of paper you use by up to 8%. Use a space-efficient font like Times New Roman.
    • Create an electronic filing system for quick, easy retrieval.
  • Keep forms and lists updated
    • Reduce unwanted mail. Much of the marketing mail that your office receives is discarded immediately, and you foot the bill for recycling or disposal, not to mention the time it takes to sort and deliver mail. Cut down on the amount of unwanted mail by keeping your employees' names off of mail lists to begin with.
    • Eliminate unnecessary forms. Sometimes documents become obsolete and are no longer needed. If forms are still needed consider making them electronic.
  • Use fax post-its rather than a cover sheet
  • Duplex instead of printing on one side
  • Use the back side of single sheets as scratch paper
  • Close the recycling loop
    • Buy recycled-content paper, preferably made from paper pulp recycled without the use of chlorine and with post-consumer recycled content or 30% or higher.
    • Start an office paper recycling program if you don't already have one

Information courtesy of Become a Paper-less Office.