Waste Hierarchy: Paper
Updated: Aug 11, 2019
Moving away from plastic now, the topic for this week is a big one for many workplaces: PAPER.
We used the Waste Hierarchy Pyramid to identify opportunities in your workplace and how you might approach your consumption differently. The idea is to work through the levels in order, but ultimately for all levels to work together at the same time to prevent and minimise your waste.
Remember, it's ok to take it in stages, to focus on your quick-wins first and then move towards deeper change as you gain confidence.
As usual, the first step on the Waste Hierarchy Pyramid is to RETHINK...how might you change your relationship with paper in your workplace? What creates the most amount of paper waste for you? Could you set your business up so the default is to save paper instead of wasting it?
The next step is to REFUSE paper wherever you can, especially virgin paper that just adds directly to deforestation. Are you printing things you don't need? Do you send out flyers that just get thrown out immediately? Are you signed up to needless subscriptions or paper statement accounts that could be going paperless?
And where can you REPLACE paper items with 100% recycled equivalents, so you can close the loop? Can you build this into your company policy?
The next step down is to REDUCE the paper you absolutely need. For many workplaces this means paying attention to printing defaults and quality, but don't forget other paper waste, like paper hand towels, toilet paper, napkins, straws, coffee filters, tea bags, books, notepads, flip charts, post-its, delivery notes...
Where can you reduce your paper use?
Moving down the Pyramid, we come to REUSE & REPURPOSE, and there are some exciting products out there to make life a bit easier at this level - reusable "whiteboard" notebooks, flipcharts and post-its have the same usability as paper but you can wipe them clean to use them again and again (with refillable whiteboard markers!). Or can you use the backs of mis-printed paper to make notebooks or scrap paper for office use?
On the repurposing side, who might benefit from your paper waste products? Schools and community centres might be interested in extra craft materials, while waiting rooms might take old magazines and animal shelters might want shredded paper for animal bedding...
Who else is in your community?
Lastly, we get to RECYCLE, and an opportunity to make sure you're part of the circular economy by ensuring all the paper you use is made from recycled material and then recycled after you've finished with it. Doing this has a direct impact on the number of trees that are cut down, which is vital to the fight against climate change (and every little bit helps!)
This is just one example of how to work through a problem using the Waste Hierarchy Pyramid; every workplace is different so don't be intimidated by all the different options, just do what you can and work towards long term change.
Sustainability is a process, and starting imperfectly is better than not starting at all!