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Reducing Printing: an Important Sustainability Strategy

Written by student associate, Kyla Fung, Class of 2026

It’s October 2022, and the crisp fall breeze invokes a faint chill in the air. Unbeknownst to the workers of Resolute Products, however, a fire has engulfed the recycled kraft pulp mill in Menominee, Michigan. Unforeseen by those who would discover the catastrophe later, the fire that ensued would last an astounding two weeks. As the main supplier of kraft pulp to large manufacturers of recycled paper, the destruction of the pulp mill has led to a shortage of recycled paper across the nation. 

Now, in February, the acute consequences of the fire have thankfully been resolved. However, the unprecedented disaster has brought the importance of paper usage practices into a more prominent light. In particular, how changing our conventional usage of paper can be a significant opportunity to cut down our contributions to the climate crisis.

Paper usage continues to increase – despite the recent electronic revolution 

While some might think that electronic advances mean less demand for physical paper, studies show otherwise. You may think: “Really? That can’t possibly be true!” Unfortunately, though the reduction of paper was predicted with the technological revolution of the 21st century, demand for paper is actually expected to double before 2030. Currently, the average American uses over 700 pounds of paper annually – and that’s just one person. Across the entire planet, more than 300 million acres of forest are destroyed in the process of producing paper each year, not to mention the copious amounts of pesticides, chemicals, water, and energy consumed during the process. Our consumption of paper does some serious damage to our environment – which is why taking action against wasteful paper usage practices can play a crucial role in tackling climate change! 

Reducing paper usage is key in our sustainability strategies

The importance of reducing our paper usage should not be overlooked. In fact, it is key in reducing our carbon footprint as a part of WashU’s community and beyond. By implementing paper reducing measures in our daily lives, we can lessen the myriad detrimental impacts on our environment: reducing energy consumption, cutting greenhouse gas emissions, producing less waste, and much more.

What YOU can do to reduce paper waste:

Although avoiding printing when possible is the best way to reduce your “paper footprint,” here are some things to keep in mind next time you do print – the Earth will thank you for it!

  1. Ensure you print the pages you truly need. You can use print preview to avoid printing unnecessary pages!
  2. If your office uses written agreements that require signatures, WashU offers DocuSign, which streamlines the process.
  3. Reduce the amount of pages to be printed. You can do this by setting the printed default to double-sided, decreasing margins, and reducing font size. 
  4. Print in black and white when possible.  Colored ink is not only more expensive, but it has a greater environmental impact than simple black and white. You can even save costs on ink by using fonts that use less ink, such as Century Gothic or Garamond!
  5. Recycle toner cartridges when empty and ask to use recycled-content paper when available.

Here at Washington University in St. Louis, we are committed to furthering our sustainability goals through multiple initiatives across our campuses, as outlined in the university’s Strategic Plan for Sustainable Operations. Reducing paper waste is just one way you can help WashU reach our sustainability goals! To get more involved in WashU’s sustainability initiatives, visit this page. If you’re interested in learning more about the paper usage issue and more ways you can help, check out this story from our archives  here.