The Coronavirus lockdown was a great occasion to explore some easy ways how to save paper at home. Over the years I have become more conscious about my paper use as part of my effort to save paper. And particularly since I started my systematic journey towards greener living. I had already started to recycle paper more effectively a few months ago. However, I knew that our family could take that a step further in saving paper.

Why to go beyond just recycling paper

Recycling paper is a great step in itself. The 1 Million Women blog post on how to save paper states: “According to the National Environment Bureau, each tonne of paper that is recycled saves almost 13 trees, 2.5 barrels of oil, 4100 kWh of electricity, 4 cubic metres of landfill and 31, 780 litres of water.”

However, paper cannot be recycled infinitely. Audrey Holmes, in her blog post for Earth911, writes that “paper is made up of long fibers, so every time it is recycled, those fibers will be shortened and make it harder to be recycled the next time. The average number of times your printer paper can be recycled is about five to seven times.” This was very humbling for me to learn. Particularly, since for one tonne of paper, about 20 mature trees are needed! And for instance, “the average American uses about seven trees or an average of 700 pounds in paper, wood, and other products made from trees every year,” according to Dawn Cifford from Small Footprint Family.

Easy ways how to save paper at home: Start with a well-done list!

As usual, I started by noting what we have already started to do. We have a sign to state that we do not want publicity materials on our mailbox. And fortunately it is pretty well respected. We also started to wrap gifts more creatively since last Christmas, and we have bought recycled toilet paper since we started eco-friendly shopping. I also use notebooks until I fill them all the way up. During these last few weeks in confinement, we have introduced the following actions, our easy ways how to save paper at home.

Re-use all of the paper

Thanks to our practice during shelter-in-place, we make now a conscious effort to use both sides of every sheet of paper to reduce paper waste. Without doubt, the most eco-friendly of us is my 5-year old son Max. From the beginning of my “going-green” journey, he has been my biggest supporter. And often even a role model for eco-friendly living. Each time he receives or opens something, he observes the packaging. And then mentions how we could reuse it again! And it was Max who one day ran to the bin where we put the paper for recycling. He started to take out pieces of paper and cardboard, saying that these could be reused for drawings and other art projects! For instance, this is a painting that Max made on…cardboard packaging of photo frame!

how to save paper artwork on paper used for packaging

This cardboard packaging was around pizza dough that we bought. When Max saw it in the recycling bin, he was not happy and said this could be used again!

And he decided to use the other side of this paper to do his lockdown homework!

how to save paper use packaging paper for kids schoolwork

Buy secondhand books

I had occasionally bought used books from Amazon for years. Mostly, though, for financial reasons. Last Christmas we took this to another level by purchasing secondhand books as Christmas gifts for the first time. I also bought secondhand children’s books on ecology for my kids as part of greener parenting. In general, in case the new and the used had the same price, I used to have the tendency to go for the new one. Lately, however, I have decided to check whether a secondhand version is available prior to buying ANY book. If the secondhand book is almost the same price, I would buy that one. And I only buy a book after I’ve thought through whether I really need to OWN it. I will check that it is not available, for instance, at my local library.

With my little musketeers and ongoing training, I unfortunately do not have much time to read for pleasure these days. When they are older and more independent, I will consider buying a second hand e-reader. Another step towards saving more paper .

Buy recycled paper for printer

This was not a habit we had until last week, although among important easy ways how to save paper at home. Previously, our choice of printer paper was mostly informed by quality, along with technical, logistical, and financial parameters. These did not lead us to buy recycled paper. Now, we have decided to try out recycled paper to save paper. We ordered this Xerox paper that is made from recycled materials:

printer paper from recycled paper

Say no to shopping tickets to save paper

My tendency was to respond in the shops and cafés that I do need the shopping ticket whenever I was asked if I wanted one. Yet I did not have the habit of saying myself each time, PRIOR TO paying, that I do not need the ticket. And half of the time, the ticket still got printed for nothing anyway, increasing paper waste. Indeed, sometimes the tickets are important to be printed, as they also represent a guarantee. Or in case I might need to return or exchange something I’ve purchased. Yet in many cases, the shops now have electronic systems for these situations.

When I buy food in a shop or pay a bill in a restaurant, I certainly could always say that I do not need a ticket in order to save paper. This habit has not been so easy to introduce. It still sometimes happens that I remember too late… Progress not perfection!

Only print if really necessary, and print on both sides

“Think before you print,” states Dawn Cifford and many others writing on saving paper. I already had started several years ago to become more conscious about paper waste when it came to printing. For instance, particularly at home, I reduced font sizes and changed the margins when I really needed to print something with many pages. But sometimes I printed things that were not essential to print. Like flight tickets and maps. Now, I have decided to opt only for electronic versions of these materials.

As embarrassed as I am to admit it, my home computer was not configured to print two-sided as a default setting. First, for many years I thought that the printer we have (that my husband owned before we met) was too old to be able to print two-sided 😊 I figured out lately that it does print very well on both sides. Yet I forgot to check my printer setup. It was only last week that two-sided default printing was installed on my computer.

Use handkerchiefs to save paper at home

Handkerchiefs were part of my childhood in the Soviet Union. Yet with the end of Soviet Union, the habit of using handkerchiefs also faded for many people in my country. Using handkerchiefs instead of tissues is on the list of 30 ways to save paper put together by Dawn Cifford. Before looking to buy or make myself some handkerchiefs, I called my mother. I was wondering if she still had some handkerchiefs saved from the time when they were commonly used. She did, and she promised to send these for me to start with. One is also presented on the featured photo (photo credit: Viive Talviste).

During this time of pandemic, some may argue that using handkerchiefs is not a sanitary solution. However, I think much comes down to HOW you use and wash them. As is the case with the DIY cloth face masks that many people are currently using. In case of doubt, many recommendations for how to sanitize handkerchiefs are available online.

Use erasable board and phone for notes and lists

This is another simple way how to save paper at home. Be it the white or black board, this could be a great solution to reduce paper use (e.g. post-its). We have a little black board, presented in one of the featured photos. And some chalk that Santa Claus brought to the kids, and I have decided to use this whenever possible instead of post-its.

Sabiha Sultana outlines 15 best apps for shopping lists for Android. I decided to pick the first one, Out of Milk, to give a try. I love handwriting, but let’s see if I manage to cultivate digital shopping lists as a permanent habit. For sure, I am not ready to give up journaling by hand yet!