Keeping Notes of Our Paper Trail

An overview of our dependence on paper, and how we can reduce paper waste for a sustainable earth

To print or not to print.

A pertinent inquiry that we often face daily, and one that is equally imperative to be brought up as the perennial question regarding the (single) use of plastic. Both require natural resources: crude oil for plastic, and the majestic, carbon-absorbing, oxygen-releasing trees for paper. The former is non-renewable while the latter is renewable—if managed properly.

So what’s the crinkle on paper waste? Well, in Indonesia alone on average each individual consumes 27kg of paper per year; and the trail of paper waste accounts for 28% of the total waste piling up in landfills.

And as we always say: what a waste, indeed.

The good news is that paper is recyclable, compostable even, but it’s often egregiously treated like a disposable item. It’s that piece of receipt you chucked away after collecting your shopping items or money at the ATM, and it’s forgotten right after you’ve written down your to-do list or once a business document has passed its expiration date or relevance so off it goes to the shredder.

(Of course, in some cases, paper holds an amazing staying power as birth certificates and land ownership documents can last forever.)

And paper’s functions naturally isn’t exclusive to something you write down or print on; it can also be your cardboard, milk carton, food wrapper/box, and that piece of disposable tissue to blow your nose on.  

Unfortunately, the latter two aren’t really recyclable as paper-based food box is prone to contamination from cooking oil, and does anyone want a recycled product made from mucus-stained tissue?

Separation of paper category at Green School Waste Bank

Going Digital

In the digital age, one would think that paper usage is on the decline as newspapers and magazines switches to online version; Kindle is a travel-friendly e-book option for bookworms who still wants to read on their vacations; plus these days you may request a soft copy of your bank bills or receipts instead.

And since the invention of emails, some may consider letter-writing is an antiquated thing of the past. So paper usage has definitely gone down—right?

Well, not really. Most companies still rely on paper to print important documents (and it’s estimated that on average the same document can be re-printed 9 – 11 times during its life cycle) and schools/universities still use textbooks for students. Recent statistics have shown that paper usage has indeed decreased, but not on a level that is not sustainable for posterity. Here’s a brief glimpse:

  • North America is a big paper spender, but paper usage is growing throughout the world and it’s expected to exceed 50% of the world’s logging industry shortly soon.
  • Paper production is the third most energy-intensive of all manufacturing industries as it uses 12% of the total energy in the industrial sector today.
  • The paper and pulp industry is the 4th largest contributor of greenhouse gas in the world.
  • Paper releases climate-changing methane gas when it decomposes in landfills.
  • China and the U.S. are some of the top consumers globally of paper and cardboard products.

Is That Plastic in Your Paper?

Ironically, despite the relatively large amount of paper we used, Indonesia still relies on the importation of paper waste from other countries. Back in June, the waste trade between developed and developing countries (especially to Southeast Asian countries now that China has closed its door) made headlines when Indonesia shipped back five cargoes of paper waste from the U.S. due to contamination with toxic waste and residues such as used diapers.

Although the news prompted an elated response from environmentalists and the general public alike as we refuse the country to be a dumping ground but it also elicits a worrying fact.

According to data from the Ministry of Industry, Indonesia requires 6.2 million tons of paper waste as raw materials for the local paper industry. Unfortunately, the local source for used paper can only supply 2.5 million tons, which is why the blank space is filled with imported materials.

And, plastic, that seemingly omnipotent waste, stirs up the conversation as well as it’s found amidst the paper, as Ecoton (Ecological Observation and Wet Conservation) can testify.

“Based on our investigation, many paper waste imports are contaminated with household waste, namely plastic waste, with percentages up to 35%,” says Prigi Arisandi, Ecoton Executive Director, in a press release.

Here’s hoping for more strict regulations and supervisions for waste imports in the not so distant future.

A Paperless Society

On a more encouraging note, in some corners of the world, including Bali, there are efforts to curb the unnecessary paper trails. For example, some big-scale festivals have already taken the paperless route, such as the 2017’s Bestival (aided by the company Tappit that provides cashless technology service using wristbands), Ubud Village Jazz Festival, and TEDxUbud, the latter even not allowing printed brochures/catalogs on site.

(Interestingly, there are currently 30 countries adopting a polymer-based currency—with the latest being North Macedonia—reasoning that it’s more sustainable than the wear-and-tear-prone paper banknotes.)

And some extolls the virtues of using recycled paper, such as Saraswati Papers that has been offering quality, handmade (artisanal, even) recycled paper on the island since 1995, while KSM Abukasa crafts beautiful handmade products like bokor (plate for fruits and dry food) and trophies from paper waste that are collected from their waste bank and provides training/workshop on paper-based craftsmanship to local communities and schools.

Paper-based fruit/offering plate (bokor) made by Abukasa waste bank

“The idea simply came about when my father looked at the waste and he pondered, ‘What else can we do with it?” says Ade Sahasrara, 23, an IT-majored university graduate who inherits his father’s waste bank business after he passed away last April.

“Other than plastic, we collect a lot of paper waste from the village’s waste banks—around 40%—so my father decided to create something from it. Together with my uncle and cousin, he learned through paper-based craft courses and went through a trial and error period where they tried different types of paper before settling on HVS paper and old brochures.”

They sell their products through events or by order, and when asked whether they had ever run out of “stock” when someone ordered the products in bulk, he simply smiles and said they never found lacking.

How to Reduce Paper Waste

Admittedly, being a conscious—or woke—consumer these days can be a full time “job” as we need to be attentive more than ever. When it comes to Paper v. Plastic, each has its consequences. Plastic’s impact may be more visible due to its post-consumption effect (polluting the ocean, killing marine species), but with paper it’s subtler as its effect happens before it reaches consumer’s hands.

According to WWF, the pulp and paper industry, which manufactures products such as office and catalog paper, glossy paper, tissue, and paper-based packaging, uses over 40 percent of all industrial wood traded globally, and along the way deforestation and displacement of native species take place.

So what to do? Well, the solution is the same as for every other type of waste: Reduce. Even better: before you decide to use paper for printing, Rethink, whether you need to print or perhaps a soft copy will suffice.

Prioritized recycled paper for everyday use—and write/print on both sides! Here’s an eye-opening number: according to the Public Recycling Official of Pennsylvania,  to recycle 1 ton of old paper can save up to 17 trees, 350 pounds of limestone, 275 pounds of sulfur, 60,000 gallons of water, 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space, 9,000 pounds of steam, and 225 kilowatt hours—that’s a LOT of natural resources we can save!

To highlight once more: paper is highly recyclable and can be recycled up to 5 – 6 times before the fibers get too thin. When that time comes, then you can chuck it into the compost bin.

For paper-based products like tissue, prioritize products that use recycled paper or ones that have Forest Stewardship Council logo that ensures the sources of its raw materials are from responsibly managed forestry.

You can always voice your demands on digital platforms for brands to use sustainable packaging. For example, the beverage carton producer Tetra Pak, as part of their Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), use responsibly sourced paper and recycle the paper layers inside the carton (which amounts to 75%) into new paper.

Bring your food box when you buy bread at your nearest health food shop or do a takeaway—paper-based food boxes more often are deemed residues thus unrecyclable as they are contaminated with cooking oil and other organic materials from food. And as for the use paper straw, we’d say why even use it when you can drink it straight from the glass?

And lastly, with the paper waste that you simply can’t avoid, use a responsible waste management service like ecoBali that’ll ensure all your paper waste won’t simply be landfilled but recycled and circulated instead into other useful products.

So, are you ready to commit to Reducing your paper trails?

Paper Recycling Trivia

  • The majority of the paper that goes wasted all across the globe is high-grade paper.
  • Recycling paper reduces pollution by 95% when used paper is manufactured into new sheets.
  • 77% of office paper waste is recyclable; records stated that a normal office generates around one pound of paper every employee.
  • To manufacture new paper from old papers, it takes around 30 to 50 % less energy than what it is required to make paper from trees.
  • Office paper is used as paper towels, toilet paper, and tissue paper after recycling.
  • Corrugated cardboard post recycling is made as cereal boxes and new cardboards.
  • All papers cannot be recycled; the ones that can be are: Colored and white paper, colored and white envelops, fax and telex copy paper, manuals, booklets, post-it notes, adding machine tape, greetings cards, carbonless forms, time cards, soft covered books with white pages, magazines, telephone directories, newspapers, time cards, flyers, and manila folders.
  • The non-acceptable recycling items include coffee cups, pizza boxes, paper towels, carbon paper, tissues, candy wrappers, brown and kraft envelopes.
  • The Public Recycling Officials of Pennsylvania have made a survey and stated that for every ton of recycled paper, you can save 17 trees, 350 pounds of limestone, 275 pounds of sulfur, 60,000 gallons of water, 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space, 9,000 pounds of steam, and 225-kilowatt hours.

Source: The New Ecologist.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *