Read All About It! 5 Good Uses of Paper; 5 Sheety Ones

phone book

If killing trees is murder, we need a darn good reason to commit the act.

In truth, it is very challenging to morph into a pulp-free society –  one that celebrates without greeting cards and wrapping paper, communicates without monthly statements and markets without catalogs. And there is nothing like holding a tactile piece of newsprint in your hands to stay informed.

Here are some, but not all, reasons for and against ending our paper chase:

Good uses of a paper

1. Love Letters

letter mark hillary

Image: Mark Hillary

Romantic missives are simply warmer when penned by hand on recycled notepaper, a cocktail napkin, the back of a Southwest Airlines ticket folder, anything but e-mail. Electronic personals can feel disingenuous. When my dad died a couple of years ago, my mom brought out a stack of letters and poetry she had inspired in him. My children hold dear the letters they receive from loved ones at summer camp and store them in their treasure boxes. Need help composing an old-fashioned love letter? Check out Write Express for unblocking your deep, profound and horny (whoops, I mean desirous) sentiments.

2. The Daily News


Image: Matt Callow

As a graduate journalism student at the Medill School at Northwestern U, we were coaxed into the broadcast program by the faculty’s admonishment “print is dead.” Well, it is in a terminal state as many major dailies fold, but the industry is still kicking. Most of my cronies are New York Times die-hards, still quoting sections of the feature pages at dinner. True, the web is a vital source of news and information, but it will be a sad day when the presses stop running for good.

3. Bathroom


As far as I can tell, there is still no better alternative on the market than recycled toilet and tissue paper. Just wish they could make a green one that is soft. We’re not baboons, you know. Well, at least most of us.

4. Photographs

Stanford, Sonoma, etc summer 2009 025

Image: Luanne Bradley

True, we could manage to print out fewer of them, but photos are archival art most of us can afford. Anyone still buying costly original art during the recession must be in the military business. But a photo wall  – now that’s doable for the thrifty eco set. While most of us store our pictures in our document folders, we tend to print the ones that have the most meaning or tell the story of our past. I cannot live without them, except of course for the ones that make me look old and fat.

5. Fiction


There’s nothing stranger than reading moving fiction, like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, on a small screen. I admit ebooks from vendors like Books on Board are a helpful adjunct to bulky books when traveling and avid readers can download dozens to peruse all summer long. But the concept of “pleasure reading” denotes taking the time to immerse one’s self in another place and time. It is difficult to become an armchair traveler when the arms are connected to a task chair. Again, it’s the tactile pleasure of making friends with your novel and lovingly embracing it, turning and folding its pages and coming back to it for more pleasure when you desire it.

Bad uses of Paper

1.  Disposable Paper Goods


Everything from paper plates and cups to paper napkins, towels and trays should be banned. If you must use disposables, we now have biodegradable serving dishes made from corn starch and other materials like bagasse (above), which is residual sugarcane fiber leftover from juice extraction. The plates are soak proof, have no plastic or wax lining applied and can be used for both hot and cold items. You can get them at World Centric and other sites. In terms of napkins, switch to cloth. You can wash and dry them in cold water to save energy and keep using them for years. One of my kids does art on gently used paper napkins, but in most cases, they are simply tossed out, and that makes me sad.

2. Catalogs


Don’t just recycle the paper for these. Phase out printing and sending them. Neiman Marcus should be ashamed of its extravagant self. Those glossy catalogs (a.k.a. The Book) the luxury retailer persists in sending through the mail are like images of dead trees. They are ridiculous, as are all catalogs still coming through the mail, on new or recycled paper. True, the companies that have switched to recycled paper are making a better choice. Support your favorite catalog companies in their transition efforts by making purchases from their websites. The web is ideal for marketing products – time to embrace it!

3. Greeting Cards


Image: Shoebox

I’m not opposed to recycled event invitations on handmade paper because of the social tradition of marking an milestone (weddings, births, B’nei Mitzvas), although more consumers are switching to electronic invites. But when it comes to the Hallmark marketing schemes (Halloween cards on sale in September), we are wasting vast amounts of paper on cards for absurd occasions. Happy Boss day? Save us! The real pressure is Valentine’s Day. Say it with a love letter that will last. Not a card someone else wrote for you, someone weird sitting in a card-writing factory. Make your own birthday notes as works of art that can be framed. And on the holidays, if you must send a greeting, send a photo that friends will keep. Apologies to Shoebox Greetings, but I’m not sure we need shoe boxes, either.

4. Monthly Bills and Statements


Apart from cyber-challenged senior citizens, most of us can receive and pay our monthly bills online. Anyway, seniors use less paper since most of their bills have been reduced over time. The banks make it easy to do online banking so why not get this dreaded chore done quickly, the paper-free way? Even if you are a big record and file keeper, you can store your stuff on a disc. I’m so tired of the paper piles. Aren’t you? Also, there are sites like Lending Tree to guide you if you’re interested in doing online banking.

5. Homework


Image: Apdk

In my house, we call it busywork. It’s bad for our over-stressed, childhood-robbed children, and it’s bad for the planet, too. The majority of k-12 schools assign work on loose paper copied from textbooks, rather than giving children their own textbooks during the year. Waste, waste, waste. The work is done on paper (think math sheets, essays, reports, displays on poster sheets and foam core, creative projects to accompany academic learning) and you’ve got schools across the globe cranking out the paper, rather than using textbooks and computers. And don’t forget report cards, also done on paper!

Image: llimllib


Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.