The Sustainable Office – Part 3: Paper and Ink

Paper and ink are two of the things most consumed by offices, and that consumption comes along with some hefty environmental side-effects. The effects of using paper are well-known (deforestation, energy use, water use, etc.), yet offices around the world still consume astounding amounts of the stuff. It was estimated that each person in the entire world consumed an average of 54.48kg or 120 pounds of paper in 2005 (Americans use about 320 kg or 700 pounds of paper per year, but hey, who’s counting?). That comes out to 354 billion kg (177 million tonnes, 780 billion pounds) of paper per year globally. Of this paper waste, about 50% is commercially generated. That’s a lot of paper, a lot of trees, and a lot of energy that can be affected by changing behaviors within the office.

The negative effects of ink and toner use are less publicized and are rarely considered. Among the negative effects are toxic emissions during production and drying, the amount of energy and materials needed to produce each plastic cartridge, and the hundreds of years the cartridges take to decompose.

The good news is that there are some pretty easy ways to save money and resources by altering your printing habits. Here are 5 of those money-saving, sustainable tips to reduce paper and ink consumption around your office.

1. Recycle your paper:

Recycling paper is an extremely easy thing to do these days. Just set up a few bins in your office designated specifically for paper, and watch it pile up.

According to the Recycler’s Handbook, if we recycled 50% of the world’s paper (exactly the portion used in offices) we would save 20 million acres of forestland each year. That is one-fifth the size of California!

In addition to saving huge amounts of forest land, making recycled paper uses 40% less energy than creating paper from virgin sources and also requires fewer chemicals and bleaches. Recycling one ton of paper saves 7,000 gallons of water, 60 pounds of air pollutants, 17 trees, and 4,000 kWh of electricity, which is enough energy to power the average American home for 6 months.

Recycling paper may not directly save your company money, but it does reduce your impact on the environment which will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, and that’s priceless.

2. Buy recycled paper:

Buying recycled paper closes the loop and is recommended for all the same environmental reasons as above. In many cases today, recycled paper is evenly priced with paper from virgin sources. This is especially true for paper of higher quality.

3. Use less paper/ink:

This is an even better method than recycling to reduce your office’s impact. According to the EIA, paper is the number one thing we throw away. 35% of our waste, by weight, is paper. Easily recycled newspapers and paper packaging is currently occupying about 1/3 of the space in our landfills.

These days, you can very easily avoid printing in most situations thanks to computers, email, and other digital miracles. Another easy way is to set your printers to two-sided printing and to print multiple pages on each side. That’s an immediate 4x reduction in paper, ink, and money used if you print two pages per side and print on both sides!

4. Refill your ink/toner cartridges:

According to CSR Wire, “the plastic in each toner cartridges takes three and a half quarts of oil to produce, and each new inkjet cartridge requires two and a half ounces of oil.” Additionally “half a gallon of oil is conserved for each laser cartridge that is returned for remanufacturing.” By reusing your ink/toner cartridges, you also prevent them from going to a landfill, where they would sit for hundreds of years before decomposing.

There are many ways to recycle or refill ink cartridges today. Many suppliers have programs that allow you to send them your used cartridges free of charge. There are businesses, such as Cartridge World, that will refill your empty cartridges, which can save you as much as 50% versus buying a new cartridge.

5. Use soy-based ink

Soy-based inks have numerous environmental benefits over traditional, petroleum-based inks. First, they are removed more easily from paper, so paper is easier and cheaper to recycle. Soy-based ink comes in brighter colors than traditional ink, so less ink is needed to produce the same image. Less ink means fewer resources and less money wasted. Most significantly, soy-based inks emit fewer volatile organic compounds (VOCs) because they are not used in the drying process for soy-based inks.

See these sites for more information: