Recycle for environment, save some money

Jim Lee: Local Columnist

Every day we are buried in an avalanche of paper.
We live with computer printed “hard copy,” receipts from gasoline pumps and ATMs, unwanted special offers courtesy of the United States Postal Service, paper towels, paper plates, paper coffee filters, and enough other paper whatevers to fill the Grand Canyon and the Rose Bowl … with enough left over for 19 tickertape parades.

Then we buy paper shredders to tear it all up and get some more.

We say we use computers to cut back on paper usage, and that’s why we type on screens instead of paper. Then we print it out before the computer gets the hiccups and loses it. Go ahead and tell me that makes sense. I double-dare you.

If the purpose of all the electronic frustration and obsession dominating just about anything connected with lifestyles and workplaces these days is to cut back on paper usage, why do we use more paper as a result? We avoid using a paper deposit or withdrawal slip or writing a paper check by using an ATM, then get a printed paper receipt from the machine.
We use a debit card instead of a check at the grocery store and get a printed receipt on a strip of paper eleventy-three feet long.

I suppose this is why 40 to 50 percent of the stuff in landfills is paper. Almost half of the logging in this country goes to paper pulp, making the manufacturing of paper chew up more than 12,000 square miles of forest per year. The cellulose fiber to make virgin paper pulp most commonly comes from wood, but it can also come from rags, sugar cane, straw, or even grass. So shouldn’t we reserve trees for making furniture?

Paper usage in the USA averages 735 pounds per person per year. The American Forest and Paper Association says 339 pounds of this is recycled paper, but that leaves 396 pounds of virgin paper per person per year. If this keeps up, we’ll turn the woodlands into toothpicks.

But we can have paper without using up the wood. We can’t force the mills to use rags or sugar cane, but we can conserve and recycle.

According to, paper has been around since Ts’ai Luin started making it back in the second century — and he made it from rags, not trees. We usually don’t need virgin (unrecycled) paper. So we can make new paper out of old paper instead of grinding up thousand-year-old trees, and we can do this without a lot of trouble or aligning ourselves with a platoon of tree-hugging whale-watchers.

We can use less, too. Probably the worst of the paper hogs are computer printers and photocopy machines. How much of that paper do we go through?

How many of us think about using both sides? True, that isn’t always practical, but it’s a good move when it doesn’t matter. That can cut paper consumption in half. Paper printed on one side can be cut up and stapled for scratch pads or grocery list pads. We can turn over discarded printer/copier paper to recycling companies so it can get processed into new paper without the need of other raw material.

Hey, it’s not necessarily just an environmental thing — it could save money. Look for a “post-consumer” label. Organize paper drives with the cooperation of a recycler.

If we cut costs by not cutting trees, we save money by saving resources, right? It sure seems like a win-win situation to me. I don’t mind joining the tree-huggers if it saves me a nickel. If trimming waste and preserving the planet make good business practice, why not? Besides, it sure makes more sense than my computer.

Jim Lee is news director for KENW-FM radio. He also is an English instructor. He can be contacted at 359-2204. His e-mail: