Reduce paper waste – 5 tips

Filed in Reduce by on January 2, 2010 36 Comments
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paperAccording to Mandy Haggith; author of “Paper Trails“, the average person throws away 250kg of paper per year, made up of toilet rolls, magazines, receipts and junk mail.

Here are 5 tips for you to help keep the trees where they should be – with their roots firmly in the ground!

Be a conscious consumer

If you have to buy new paper, then buy 100% post consumer waste recycled. All recycled paper is NOT the same. If the paper milling process goes wrong and that virgin pulp is reused to make a fresh batch, it can technically be called ‘recycled’. The percentage of post consumer waste gives you the real facts.

Say no to junk mail

Sign up for the Mail Preference Service to stop unwanted junk mail. Doing this has stopped about 80% of junk mail coming into zero waste towers.

Be sure to read our articles on reducing junk mail and stopping BT telephone books and Yellow Pages. Also visit Robert’s ‘Stop Junk Mail’ website for lots of useful information.

Use both sides

If you print things out from your computer, use both sides of the paper or do what we do and print on the back of old letters and junk mail. Save the decent paper for official correspondence.

Use old scraps

Don’t buy yourself a new notebook for writing notes and shopping lists; use the back of torn envelopes or scrap paper instead. The small amount of junk mail that comes into our house is kept in a drawer specifically for this purpose.

Keep your mouth clean!

Do you really need a hand full of paper serviettes when you visit a cafe? I used to grab handfulls of them, take them home, stuff them in a drawer and throw them in a bin a few months later when having a declutter. Geesh; shame on me!

I’m sure you have loads more ideas – please share them in the comments below!


About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (36)

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  1. I have 2 daughters in school and they bring home a ton of paper. My twins will be in school this year so I will have double the amount. Each week I go through their backpacks and any paper they bring home that has a blank side its put into the printer paper. Comes in handy especially when I print out some coloring pages for them. Less paper I have to buy.
    Another great tip is put your paper scraps into the shredder and use it for crafts or for shipping out items. It can be recycled by them or they can reuse it again.

  2. laura says:

    newspaper can be turned into little plant pots that get planted with the plant into the ground, or just read electronic versions, also can swap/share old magazines with friends.

  3. how about writing to the school super-intendent and demanding that teachers cut their paper printing to half; that would still be grossly wasteful, but it would awaken principals to the enormity of the one use frivolity of large printouts for mostly blank pages.

    how about a separate bin for paper arts projects: collages, montages, scanning icons and screens. cards and envelopes, boxes and tubes. who needs toys when you can make them? rolling paper beads, forming paper mache statues, magazine trees, fireplace logs….

    how about cutting every blank space of any flyer , advertisement or notice and using it for special notes and lists, love notes and reminders <<and reminders to leave love notes for your special ones…

  4. Gail says:

    Since we just finished a season which uses more paper than most in the home, we can decrease paper use by reusing wrapping paper, old maps, brown paper bags, fresh tissue paper, fresh fruit and vegetable net bags, Christmas/holiday cards next holiday or for presents throughout the year. Cards can be made into gift tags, postcards, and tree decorations. Brown paper bags can be used for shipping. Shredded paper can be put in boxes to secure items in mailing. When I was young we had a Girl Scout project where we bound paper to make booklets, along with covers. Recycled letters can be turned into booklets for notes.

  5. Anne says:

    I have a paper trimmer for papercrafts. Now I cut any paper with a blank surface to it fits into my memo block container – this is also useful as it means other members of the family are reusing paper even if they are not green-conscious!

  6. Sandie says:

    I know I’ve mentioned it before, by you have so many people reading your blog now that someone may have missed this information:

    Petition the Prime Minister for a centralised opt-in system of receiving phone books @

    75 million phonebooks are produced and delivered each year, amounting to an estimated 75,000 tonnes of annual waste, enough to cover Hyde Park twice! Add in the cost of manufacturing, delivering and recycling phone books, this equals a totally unnecessary and avoidable environmental burden. The estimated amount of resources wasted include:

    • 680,000 barrels of oil (not including petrol wasted during delivery) • 2 billion litres of water (not including water wasted in the recycling process) • 437 million kilowatts of energy (not including the recycling process) equates to enough energy to power 112,000 three bedroom houses for a year

    From production to recycling, 75,000 tonnes of phonebooks equates to 96,000 metric tonnes of wasted carbon emissions!

    We’re asking for a centralised opt-in system for phonebooks, giving the UK population the choice to reduce the cost of producing unwanted and un-needed phonebooks.

  7. Ben says:

    Thanks for the tips and reminders. Phonebooks are such a waste and even though I was removed from the list, I still recieve them. I hope someday they get the message and stop wasting money on me.

  8. Jane says:

    Not every Council takes shredded paper for recycling. Shredding it reduces the length of the fibres and gives it less value for recycling into paper again. So it is probably better not to shred more than necessary. You can often tear off the personal/confidential bits that you don’t want flying around the street for everyone to read and just shred those bits.

    Some shredded paper can go in your wormery or compost bin and if you have a food waste bin then it is useful for lining the bottom of that to soak up any liquid (some Councils suggest this). We generally use just newspaper to line ours.

    Be very careful when ordering online or you’ll be getting never-ending pamphlets and magazines through the post. – sometimes you are asked to tick if you DO want to be contacted and sometimes if you DON’T want to be contacted to receive more info! Then of course there are some companies who SHARE your details. Aagh!!!

    Unless we have terribly sore noses we use loo roll for blowing our noses and not tissues and loo roll of course can be flushed down the loo.

    We gave up kitchen roll and use cloths which we boil. If you have a microwave this is a good way to deal with flannels and dishcloths as well as washing-out but make sure that they are very WET or they’ll burn.

    One of my best Christmas presents several years ago was a little box to put waste paper in for reuse. It takes A4 sheets torn into four. This helps to muddle up old papers so less of a problem and it is a great size for notes/shopping lists/telephone messages. I still use envelopes and the inside card from tights packets though!

    Paper is one of the easiest things to reduce but still seems to be a constant battle!

    Don’t forget to help elderly relatives with this as they can find it more difficult dealing with all the unsolicited stuff.

  9. For some reason our council won’t accept shredded paper which seems a bit crazy. On the one hand, the government are advertising about how not to be a victim of crime and advocating shredding all paperwork containing personal details, yet on the other they want us to recycle more. Shame that in this case, you can’t do both!

  10. Poppy says:

    Our council do accept shredded paper at the recycling centre, but not in the kerbside boxes because while transfering to the collection lorries, much of it ends up littering the street, especially on windy days!!

  11. Mrs Green says:

    @surviving and thriving on pennies: Hiya 🙂 LIke Nadine points out, that amount of paper seems so wasteful; are the children in the same school? Is there a way you could have one letter per family or encourage the school to print on both sides or even to print two newsletters per A4 sheet and give each child an A5 size? You’re right with excess paper that can’t be avoided however, shredded paper makes pretty and practical wrapping material.

    @laura: Hi Laura, those newspaper pots are wonderful. We made some this year for the first time and they worked a treat 🙂

    @Gail: Hi Gail, thanks for sharing all your ideas. I love the sound of making your own notebooks 🙂

    @Anne: Hi Anne, that sounds so organised – well done you! I’m afraid I just had a scrap drawer and paper of every size, shape and description gets thrown in there!

    @Sandie: Hi Sandie; thanks for the reminder – as you point out, it’s great to share this info with new readers 🙂

    @Ben: Hi Ben, what a pain the phonebooks are still coming. Keep on reapplying to have your name taken off, write letters, make phonecalls and hopefully you’ll sort this out.

    @Jane: Hi Jane, great comment – thank you for all that useful and insightful information. There are lots of tips to help people reduce their paper waste in there.

    @recycle mobile: Hi Recyclemobile. It is a shame, but as Jane points out, shredded paper makes great compost or wormery material.

    @Poppy: Hi Poppy; it;s interesting to know your local council accept shredded paper. Ours doesn’t to my knowledge, but I will recheck.

  12. mallory says:

    I’ve got a great + super simple tip. The next time you’re purchasing a gift card– go for the electronic (and paperless) option, an eGift card. Each year, 75 millions lbs of PVC is dumped into landfills from plastic gift card waste (Plenty Magazine). That’s an astronomical amount of waste for something that can easily and conveniently be sent virtually. PVC is notoriously difficult to recycle and cannot be tossed into the recycling bin along side your other household items. You must send those pesky plastic cards to a PVC recycling plant, the only one I know of is EarthWorks. For a directory of retailers that offer an eGift card, try …it is the most extensive one I have found to date. Hope that helped.

  13. Mrs Green says:

    @mallory: Hi Mallory, welcome to the site and thanks for telling us about your site. I’ve never heard of an eGift card. Over here the trend is towards the PVC cards which are problematic for landfill

  14. Jane says:

    How about this? Many of us don’t wash our hands enough or well enough but we should also re-think how we dry them. Shake the drips into the basin before you reach for the towel! Love these stickers. Anyone seen them in the UK?

  15. Mrs Green says:

    @Jane: Not seen these, Jane. I’ll keep a look out in washrooms 🙂

  16. Karen says:

    I have a friend who used to use shredded paper for horse bedding. There is a company in Plymouth who sells large quantities for animal bedding.
    I use all of my birthday and christmas cards as gift tags or shopping lists. I do a lot of competitions and use half a card instead of new postcards.

  17. Mrs Green says:

    @Karen: Great idea for using half a card instead of postcards; those little postcards cost a lot of money 🙂

  18. Sandie says:

    I tear up waste paper and put it in the compost heap! It soaks up the soggy (veggie) stuff and soon rots down to great potting compost

  19. Tracey says:

    I can’t believe no-one’s mentioned log-burners/stoves…?
    I’ve been feeding ours all kinds of newspaper, junk-mail, cardboard from packaging…
    Shredded paper makes ideal tinder and scrunched newspaper for the kindling… Then just feed a little bit of junk-mail with each new log…?
    Cozy warm and the ash goes in the compost bin. 🙂

  20. Mrs Green says:

    @Sandie: Hi Sandie, paper is a great addition to the compost heap and helps prevent green slime!

    @Tracey: Hi Tracey, We use some in our woodburner too, to get the fire going. The reason I never mentioned it is because I guess woodburner users are in the minority so it might not be helpful to most of our readers. Have you ever tried a log maker?

  21. Tracey says:

    I think that woodburners/multifuel stoves seem to be coming into fashion a bit – with people trying to save money on fuel bills and be aware of their carbon foot-print…

    I’ve tried “The Logmaker” ( but our stove only has a small firebox, so I found that the small ones are a bit short-lived for the amount of work you put into them and you end up with a lot of ash from the paper.

    I’ve now bought a Briquette Maker ( as I’d heard a lot of good reports about this from friends (though they said they’re very messy to make!). But as these need to dry out, I need to wait till summer… I have about 3 boxes of newspaper in the cellar waiting for it to be warm enough for them to dry! 🙂

    If the briquette maker works, the original logmaker will be being free-cycled. 😛

  22. Mrs Green says:

    @Tracey: Good luck with the brick maker – a friend had one and the secret was not to get the papers Too wet, otherwise they go mouldy before they dry out. I think once you get the hang of them they are really good 🙂

  23. Teresa says:

    Some links I found:

    Why we need to photocopy on both sides of the paper

    How to photocopy on both sides of the paper

    How to print out on both sides of the paper

  24. Mrs Green says:

    @Teresa: Useful information – thanks Teresa!

  25. Teresa says:

    More people need to know about this. I’m reading a book on decluttering and there was advice in their about clearing your desk or office from junk mail, catalogues and outdated reports and putting a weekend aside for it but nothing on stopping this stuff coming into your office or place of work in the first place. Otherwise you’d be giving up a lot of weekends for decluttering.

  26. Teresa says:

    Cutting down on the use of paper in the office means also means cutting down on work (ordering paper, taking delivery of it and receiving invoices which need to be noted in the accounts and then filed) and storage space. Can’t people working in offices see this.

  27. Teresa says:

    Jane, I must admit I do use kitchen paper but not for all spills. I use disposable normally which need to be thrown out every week. The kitchen paper is used for wiping the kitchen and bathroom floors and the outside of the toilet as they get very mucky. I also use it for wiping away cooking fat sprays when frying.

    On the other hand I tick the box to ask that my details aren’t passed onto other companies. We should have to opt in to have our details passed not opt in to prevent this. If any company sends me a monthly catalogue after I’ve ordered something from them I request to come off the mailing list. Twice a year is enough and four times a year is the maximum a company should send out catalogues to people on their mailing lists. My biggest bugbear is getting duplicate and worse still multiple mailings and also generic mailings because organisations cannot sort out their databases properly. Once I received a report aimed at GP’s and people with learning difficulties as well as in CD and cassette form when I all I wanted was the standard report. I made a complaint about that.

    I use scrap paper a lot but have more than I can use since I’ve been doing quite a bit of decluttering lately.

    As for the phone books do we need a Yellow Pages, Thomson Directory and BT Phone Book which now has phone number listings for businesses as well as private subscribers?

  28. Antonio Pachowko says:

    Some companies operate with a clean desk policy ( i.e no papers allowed on the desk at All) but with open offices and limited space means that removing paper is paramount. The problem with having so many articles is what to keep , what to recycle, as you never know when you may have to refer to it. For example I have over 500 papers (articles written in periodicals, conference proceedings, Journals, Letters), text books, thesis (including my own), reports I have written (yes I Have written a lot of reports), meeting minutes and you do get swamped. I decluttering once in a while but it is finding the time.

  29. Mrs Green says:

    @Teresa: Good reminder about people checking the ‘do not mail me’ boxes on forms. We have no unsubbed from all the various telephone directories, but it’s not very successful; they still find their way here…

    @Antonio Pachowko: Agreed; it’s very hard when we produce so much paper and never know when we will need to reference it. I have just this week recycled some papers and manuscripts, so let’s hope I don’t need them in the future! Sometimes we just have to trust and let it all go…

  30. Teresa says:

    I’ve been looking back over old course notes and essays from when I was at school and college and noticed printing was often done on duplicators with ink made from methylated spirits. Printing on both sides of the paper was very difficult back then so not the norm. However the concept of white space hadn’t been heard and sheets of paper were filled as much as possible with text, often quite small, instead of large font headlines, boxes and graphics.

  31. Teresa says:

    Well I’ve filled two green bags of waste paper in a week and shredded some as well for the compost bin. I’ve come to the conclusion that another reason why people didn’t photocopy or print on both sides of the paper in the 70’s and 80’s was that the paper was so thin you could see the print through to the other side. Remember the old computer paper used back then.

    We’ve got greedy in demanding thicker and thicker paper for everyday use and I got a folder full of handouts with paper so thick is was light card. Typical office paper is now 80 g/m2 which is grams per square metre but many companies and organisations use thicker paper.

  32. Antonio Pachowko says:

    @Teresa: Paper density varies from 80 g/m^2 to over 200g/m^2 depend on its final use. For example the paper density of newspaper is have a low density , whilst high end glossy brochure will have ahigh density. It is all to do with the longevity of the product, but office paper has a higher value than normal paper in the recyling stakes.

  33. Teresa says:

    @Antonio Pachowko: * 80 gm2 is actually quite thin compared with much of the paper used these days for magazines and mail outs. Newspaper is much thinner than this.

  34. Teresa Lewis says:

    I was taking round leaflets listing Fairtrade Fortnight events yesterday to various places and found that most were quite keen to take only a few leaflets and one deli said they would take just two to stick in the window. I did however notice in some cafes piles of magazines, newsletters and leaflets left by thoughtless distributors who didn’t want to go from cafe to cafe and the cafe staff have to get rid of the remainder left when they date. I would leave just a few leaflets anyway as the more cafes with them the more chance that people would get to find out about Fairtrade Fortnight.

    Nobody on here I doubt needs to be told to be kind and don’t leave an excess of leaflets when distributing them but we need to spread the word. And cafe staff need to be more assertive about how much they will take.

  35. Teresa says:

    I was going through some leaflets from tourist information centres last night and found some on local walks. I was disgusted to see them packaged into a glossy cardboard folder and the paper was very thick. Much of the information on one leaflet about the benefits of walking was repeated on all the other leaflets and it was all duplicated into Welsh. Then there were some other leaflets inside a plastic folder and the same again. What surprises me is that they were free of charge so tax payers’ money was spent on them. In future I will not take anything packaged like this or on thick paper.

  36. Teresa says:

    Last night I attended an election hustings for the forthcoming Welsh Assembly elections in the local leisure centre. On entering the hall there was a table with leaflets on them from various organisations involved with campaigning on climate change as well as a pamphlet on each chair. I was good in that I came away with only two pieces of literature and left the heavy handout on Green Deal job training. Still amazed by the comments made by the representatives of the organisations who had left the leaflets and pamphlets saying that they were hoping not to have to take any back with them. One Oxfam representative was being precious by being overly concerned that I was standing too close to the table blocking other attendees view of the her pamphlets. I saved them the temptation to pick up more literature that ends up as unread paper clutter.

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