The Paperless Office – How Are We Going?

In 1975, a Business Week article predicted the imminent arrival of the paperless office. The arrival of office automation would, in theory at least, eliminate the need for office paper. The assumption was simple, with the arrival of personal computers the need for paper copies would be eliminated.

So now, 40 years later, how are we doing?

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It turns out that paper usage since the 70’s actually started to grow exponentially. The reason being, ironically, the development of the cheap personal computer and printers allowed employees to print anything they needed to, at the push of a button.

However, there does seem to be some good news. Since the early 2000’s a decline in the use of paper has been noted. Why? Quite simply, the arrival of the internet and more recently, the smartphone has allowed us to process more information without the need to printing.  Newspaper readership is in decline, paper books are starting to become a niche product and more and more transactions are done 100% on-line. 20160918-paper_consumption_graph_china

But there are some new challenges.

On the graph above you probably noticed a red line increasing exponentially. This was due to rapid growth in China and an exponential uptake on paper usage. The FAO is predicting that consumption in China may reach almost equal to current global levels, by 2040.

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Additionally, the increase of the disposable society is reaping havoc. In 2006 in the USA for example, 6.5 million trees were cut down to make 16 billion disposable coffee cups. They used 130 billion cups in total for the same year!


Why is this a problem? Well, let’s consider a few interesting facts.

  • Approximately40% of municipal waste is paper
    • Even recycling of paper can be a source of pollution from sludge production during de-inking.
  • Up to 35% of all trees harvested is used for paper and paper products
    • Old growth forests make up 16% of the virgin tree fibre used each year to make paper products. – Abramovitz 1999
    • For every tonne of paper, 4 tonnes of trees are cut down
    • Plantation forests are usually single species (Mono-culture) which raise ecological concerns.
  • Air-pollution – Nitrogen dioxide (NO2) sulphur dioxide (SO2) and carbon dioxide (CO2) are all emitted during paper manufacturing
  • Water pollution – There is much waste from paper production including chlorates and transition metals as well as excessive consumption of water.

So, what are the options?

Like most of these problems, the solutions really are quite simple, simply by reducing our consumption of disposable products, we can start to have an impact.Below are a few simple suggestions to get you started.

  • Talk to colleagues, family and friends and encourage them to reduce their usage wherever possible.
  • Take your own coffee cup to the shop (A lot of stores offer discount, so make sure to ask!)
  • Use hand dryers in place of paper towels
  • Read digitally or on-line
  • Remember to use double sided printing or re-use paper that has printed material on one side only
  • Change bill payments to on-line
  • Think before you print!
  • Monitor paper usage in the office and set targets for reduction
  • Update your office environment to make better use of cloud-based options
    • On-line storage
    • Digital receipts
    • On-line databases
    • E-mails
  • And, if you still need to buy paper, then try and buy recycled paper


#reducereuserecycle #wastepaper #deforestation #pollution #disposablesociety