I get on the bus, stamp my ticket, and look over the documents for tomorrow’s meeting. I grab two theater tickets – they are changing the posters. I pick up my mail. ¡Oh no! I see the prescription and realize I forgot to stop by the pharmacy. I put the receipt from the dry cleaner’s on the counter, and look at the manual for the new DVD recorder. Wow, paper is everywhere! Multiplied by all of the cities, the people, the companies, the countries… What are the effects of so much paper consumption? Is it really true that the digital age is reducing the amount of paper we consume? Here you will find the answers to those questions and others you may not have considered.

In the Mediterranean:

  • The history of paper, both its use and the ways of producing it, is intimately linked to the Mediterranean and the many past and present cultures that call it home.
  • As early as 3000 BC in Egypt a form of communication was invented which could be considered the origin of the modern writing system: papyrus. It was produced from a plant abundant on the banks of the Nile.
    Later, in 300 BC, in Pergamon, a city in what is now Turkey, parchment was developed. Parchments were prepared from untanned goat, pig and donkey hide.
  • When the Arabs conquered Samarkand (in about 750 AD) they gained knowledge of techniques developed by the Chinese for manufacturing paper from vegetable fibers such as silk, rice, hemp, and cotton, and they took it to different regions of the Mediterranean in the 10th century, where rags became the main raw material for paper production.
  • After 1660, industrial techniques began to be applied to paper production and these formed the basis of current techniques used throughout all the Mediterranean countries.
  • Today, Mediterranean countries consume nearly 11% of the global paper and cardboard production, though there are notable differences in per capita consumption among countries. These differences are a symptom that consumerism affected the North shore to a higher degree. In the South shore much less writing and printing paper is consumed, and sanitary paper (napkins, handkerchiefs, toilet…) consumption is virtually zero. While something like using paper towels is commonplace in the North shore, in the South shore it is probably seen as a luxury or a waste.

What does paper do for us? It has so many uses! Bills, receipts, tickets, labels, boxes, filters, cards, recipes, brochures, invoices, letters, menus, envelopes, packets, fines, maps, folios, books, notebooks, diaries, magazines, toilet paper, wrapping paper, instruction manuals, photos, cigarettes, posters and flyers, forms… At first, many of these uses might seem indispensable or irreplaceable, but with some thought, we can see that there are many opportunities to consume less paper.

How can we go about it:

  • Print on both sides of a sheet or print two pages per sheet.
  • Configure your fax so that it doesn’t print an extra sheet when sending or receiving.
  • Use the blank side of scrap paper or convert them into notepads.
  • Ask your bank not to send bank statements unless completely necessary.
  • Due to the business they are in, some companies print a lot of paper on one side only: design studios, graphic arts, publishers… They may not be able to use the other side, or find a way to reuse it . If you know anyone who works in one of these businesses, you could ask them to give you this paper.
  • Text editing programs are configured by default to leave big margins, headers and footers. If we want to make these margins narrower for every document we print its possible to modify the default document template; consult the program’s help files to find out how to do this.
  • Try to use paper which has a lower weight than the usual 80 gr/m2 and see if it works for most of your needs.
  • Try to use fewer disposable paper products (tissues, napkins, tablecloths, paper towels, paper plates and cups, sheets for exam tables or massage, bandages…). You can find reusable versions of all of these and only use paper disposables on special occasions.

As our society gets more and more computerized, many have predicted paperless offices or the end of the paper era. Should I buy a newspaper or read it online? Should I make copies of the documents for each participant, or use a projector? Should we read paper books or ebooks? There are studies that show that the environmental impact of different options can vary widely depending on various factors, so its difficult to clearly say which option is best. Rather than advise you to always choose one or the other, we prefer to present some advice that you can use to make a more informed decision.

How can we go about it:

  • The more people that use the same paper copy of a newspaper (or of a book, a magazine, a document…), the better. For example, sometimes it’s possible to read the newspaper in a bar or at the library. If you are done reading something, leave it in a public place for others to read.
  • The same advice also makes sense for book readers used to read newspapers, but in this case, take care to extend their life as long as possible.
  • It also makes sense to extend the life of computers as well. The less time it is turned on, the better. For example, if you use it to consult documents during a meeting, set it to sleep or suspend for the rest of the time.
  • Be conscious of consuming less electricity directly, and encouraging the use of renewable energies everywhere you can.

Two raw materials are used to make most paper: wood, which is what virgin paper is made from, and recovered paper, used paper which is recycled. Recovering used paper has few damaging environmental effects (unlike harvesting wood – see below), it can be recovered in areas close to paper factories, the process of manufacturing recycled paper is also far less polluting than the manufacture of virgin paper and it uses a lot fewer resources. Recycled papers can be just as hight quality as those of virgin paper for every common application for which paper is used. Therefore, the best advice we can give you is to use recycled paper whenever you can.

How can we go about it:

  • Look for products labelled 100% recycled paper. It is usually manufactured frompost-consumer paper, although it is not always labeled as such.
  • You can suggest that the copy shops and printers which you work with move over to recycled paper. There is no technical reason these days not to.
  • For writing paper, there are manufacturers who make recycled papers on sale in several Mediterranean countries, such as Steinbeis or Vertaris. These manufacturers also produce recycled papers which are widely sold under other brand names, such as Motif Recycled, Océ, Xerox, Antalis… Nautilus brand paper can also be easily found, produced by the South African multinational Mondi.
  • There are few brands of disposable paper items made from recycled paper, if you look you can find them. For example Renova Green, sold mainly in Portugal and Spain. Also there are quite a few of brands of recycled paper disposables available in big supermarkets.
  • We can find a lot more resources about recycled paper online, for example here there is an extensive overview in the case of France.

Globally, most of the wood destined to make paper comes from forests, and it plays a part in deforestation and forest degradation in some countries. It also comes from tree plantations, which, like other intensive monocultures, have many problems associated with them. Particularly in countries of the global South, where raw materials are exported for the benefit of powerful foreign entities. In the case of virgin paper, in order to minimize the damage that is being done, it’s important to choose paper with a forest certification.

How can we go about it:

  • Nowadays, the FSC certification is the best indicator that the wood used to make something has been logged sustainably.
  • However, the practice of forest certification is not entirely free of controversy.

One of the most problematic environmental effects of paper making is the use of chlorine to bleach paper pulp, whether it is made of virgin or recycled raw materials. These chemical processes combine heat, organic matter and chlorine (or chlorine compounds) and can generate a variety of substances such as dioxins y furans, which are some of the most toxic substances known, both for human beings and the environment. Here we can see what techniques are used to bleach paper. Don’t choose papers which have been bleached with chlorine.

How can we go about it:

  • There are many reasons why you might need paper to be white; but lots of today’sunbleached recycled papers are bright enough for your needs.
  • Papers that have been recycled without bleach are known as TCF (Totally Chlorine Free) or, in the case of recycled paper, PCF (Process Chlorine Free).
  • The Blue Angel seal is only awarded to papers which are 100% recycled from post-consumer content and have not been bleached or have been bleached without chlorine (papeles PCF). Other seals of environmental quality that we can find on brands of paper (Cisne Nórdico, Ecolabel) confess to using chlorine in bleaching.

Just as when you use any product, with paper, it is important to keep it in good condition, use it and reuse it well, and dispose of it in the best way for the environment.

How can we go about it:

  • If you have to store reams of paper for long periods of time, its best not to unwrap them. The best is to store them in a place where the temperature and humidity are low and constant.
  • Reuse paper disposables, get more than one use out of them, if possible. Napkins can be used for more than one meal, or they can be reused in the kitchen to soak up oil… Sometimes in a bar, the paper disposables you are given hardly get used, so save them for another time. Hand towels can be reused, if you let them dry.
  • If you remove paperclips, staples, and spirals, etc. from the paper you recycle, the recycling process will become more efficient.
  • In general, some objects which are not entirely paper, such as envelopes with an address window or transport cards with a magnetic strip, can be better recycled if we take the time to remove these plastic components.
  • Paper which is dirty with organic matter can’t be recycled. Items made from tissue (paper napkins, kleenex, paper towels, coffee filters, tea bags…) are best thrown out with organic waste, because they decompose rapidly. If they are thicker (such as pizza boxes) they cannot be collected selectively.
  • Other papers items which cannot be recycled include: carbon paper, plasticized paper, photos, cellophane, paper with paint or other chemical products on it.