8 Ways To Reduce Your Paper Usage at Home & Work

Reading Time: 4 minutes

We all need to use less paper. I cringe every time there is unnecessary paper in packaging, or when someone prints things out without ever thinking. Here are eight ways to cut back on your paper use.


1. Send digital greeting cards.

A card is a sign of affection and thoughtfulness, and everyone loves to receive them. The greeting card business uses a lot of paper, though. For the last few Christmases, I have sent digital cards, but not to the few friends and family that don’t use email. Not only did I save trees, I saved a bunch of time by copying and pasting email addresses instead of addressing and sealing envelopes. I also saved on the cost of cards and postage.

2. Read the news online.

I don’t buy the local paper anymore, because I can read it online. All newspapers now have an RSS feed and Facebook and Twitter accounts. I have all my news sites in Google Reader, and I can skim them over several times a day. I scroll through my Facebook and Twitter streams for other newspapers headlines. I subscribe to two magazines, and I may let them lapse when the subscriptions run out. There is no reason to read hard copy newspapers and magazines anymore.

3. Read books from the library, buy used, or share with friends.

I have been a library fan since I was a kid, and I was thrilled to turn my own daughters on to the benefits of it. For me, the problem with the library is that I like to read in the bathtub, so I buy used books mostly. I buy a book from Amazon for a dollar, pay a few bucks shipping, and have a used book for little output and which I can recycle.

I also like to scribble in books, underline cool quotes and fold the corners over. I really READ a book, so the library doesn’t work so much for me. There used to be a second-hand bookstore here that let you buy a book, then return it for another, like a library. I was in there often! See if second hand bookstores near you will do this.

Get an e-reader. I don’t have one. I spend enough time in front of a computer during the day. I don’t want to do my recreational reading on one, too. And I like to read in the tub! I can’t scribble in an e-reader, either. I love my pen and paper!

4. Reuse copy paper that’s printed on one side

If I am printing something out for my own information, like an article I want to make notes on or a receipt for my bookkeeping, I use the backside of a page that’s printed. When I was in real estate, scrap paper piled up quickly. When I cleaned out my daughter’s rooms last spring, I gleaned a lot of good, usable paper, too.  If too much accumulates, I staple them together and create a notebook.

The speed at which paper piled up  at work made me see how much paper is used and wasted in the world every day. I am very conservative with resources, and paper even piles up for me! That revelation made me more determined to recycle it and cut back on it.

5. Get your bills via email.

Call the company or go to their website, and  sign up for e-billing cycle. They will email or text you the bill or a notice that the bill is ready online. Most companies will send both paper and electronic unless you tell them otherwise, so be sure to tell them you do not want your bill mailed to you anymore.

6. Pay those e-bills through your bank

You can pay through the company website, but I prefer to pay through my bank’s site, so my account info is not scattered all over the web. Get set-up with your bank, then once your account is active, add the companies that bill you. This takes a bit of time, but it only needs to be done once. When you get the email bill, go to the bank website, and pay it or schedule it.

Most payments these days are electronic, but some still need to be paid via check, which the bank will write and send. This takes a couple extra days, so take that into consideration when you are scheduling payments. You don’t want to incur late fees.

7. Submit your taxes digitally

I keep all my tax info in an Excel spreadsheet that I send to my accountant in bits and pieces throughout the year. In January, we wait for 1099s, and I scan/email them to her. She checks them with what I’ve sent in, does some computations that elude me (this is why I have an accountant!), we scan/email all forms that need signatures, then she e-files directly to the IRS. I receive a hard copy of my tax return that I file away.

We save a lot of paper by not faxing things back and forth and making copies. I e-file my daughter’s taxes online, and there is a copy on my hard drive. No paper at all! Our refunds are direct-deposited, which is paperless, faster and eco-friendly.

8. Buy recycled paper whenever you can

Copy paper, paper towels, toilet paper, tissues, greeting cards (if you must buy them), can all be purchased in recycled form. Make sure there is Post-consumer Waste Content on the label. The higher that number, the more paper is staying out of the landfills. Some products are 100% PCW, but most are 35% and above. A ton of recycled paper saves 17 trees, so do your part!


Cutting back on your paper use and finding ways to reuse and recycle what paper you do have will reduce your carbon footprint, save trees, and give you (and me) peace of mind.  Hopefully, you can set a good example for someone else, too.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.