What is Paper Efficiency?

Paper efficiency measures how much paper is needed to perform a specific task.  Improving paper efficiency means accomplishing the same task, with less mass of paper used.

Most people have made duplex copies, but today, most copies are still single-sided.  Duplexing some of these copies that are now single-sided is a way to get the same information on fewer sheets of paper, and so is an example of increasing "paper efficiency". 

Another example of paper efficiency arises in document storage. Instead of creating additional paper copies for the purpose of a document archive storage facility, all this information can be held electronically. This not only reduces the amount of paper use within the organisation but also provides greater efficiency in the storage and retrieval process.

Paper efficiency is much like energy efficiency.  A more efficient car needs less fuel to go the same distance as a less efficient car.  Adding insulation to the walls of a house reduces the heating bill and also makes the house more comfortable to be in.  Just as energy efficiency is not about "freezing in the dark", improving paper efficiency does not mean losing any of the wanted information on the paper. 

The key to efficiency is that we usually don't want the paper itself, but the service that it helps provide.  For example, we buy a newspaper for the news it contains, not for the newsprint.  Because of this, we rarely focus attention on the paper itself, and organisations don't have "Paper Department"s.  Instead, every part of an organisation uses some paper in delivering their product.  By spending some time to examine and rethink our use of paper, to use it better, we can help ourselves, our organisation, and the environment. 

Recycling paper and using recycled content paper are good to do, but as they do not affect the amount of paper we use, they are not examples of paper efficiency. 

Why Should I Care About Paper Use?

There are many reasons why you might want to reduce the amount of paper your office uses.  These can be broadly divided into environmental, economic, and other advantages.  While many of the reasons are compelling, often the cost savings are most influential.  Changing paper habits requires spending some time and sometimes money, so cost savings help justify it as a wise investment.

Environmental Issues 

A common environmental concern around paper is for landfills; even with the presence of effective recycling programmes, a considerable amount of paper still ends up buried.  With each round of recycling, some fibres are lost, all of which means a considerable amount of wood is required.  Paper also takes a considerable amount of energy to produce, and while much of this is derived from the trees themselves, there is still a significant energy benefit to reducing paper use. 

The role of paper in global climate change (forestry, paper production, use, and disposal) is complex, but reducing paper use helps alleviate our climate problems.

Producing paper has land-use and forestry impacts, and the pulping, bleaching, and paper-making processes produce a variety of harmful emissions.  While people argue about the exact size of the environmental benefits of using less paper, there is no question that we always come out ahead. 

It takes the equivalent of about 17 Watt-hours (Wh) of electricity to make a sheet of paper from wood (and about 12 Wh for 100% recycled paper). This means that the manufacturing energy for the 5 sheets an hour typically used by office workers is about the same as that needed to run an 80 W bulb for the same hour.  However, paper is more expensive than electricity per kWh and so the five sheets/hour costs about as much as the electricity cost of eight 80 W bulbs.  Using five sheets per hour is 10,000 per year per person!

Economic Issues 

On the economic front, the UK as a whole spends a considerable amount of money buying paper, and an even larger amount in the course of using this paper. This is particularly true for office paper, where costs such as printing, copying, storage, and mailing overwhelm the paper purchase cost.  Saving money by reducing some of these expenditures is an important rationale for reducing paper use. 

Other Issues 

A third type of benefit of the better use of paper is the qualitative effect on our businesses and lives.  Whenever you have to carry stacks of paper a distance (such as when travelling), you become aware that having less of it to lug around makes life easier.  When we have fewer sheets of paper in our homes and offices, we will spend less time looking for those that are misplaced or lost.  Businesses are increasingly converting to electronic form, operations that had previously been paper-based.  Many have found that the quality of information processing increases and the time it takes (both labour and total elapsed time) to process or summarise information drops precipitously. 

We should always remember that reducing paper use brings an entire set of benefits.  Some changes may have little effect on overall costs, and so environmental benefits can be the main motivation.  In other cases, the cost savings by themselves are compelling and so can take the lead.  

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