Green Living: Green Living Guides

Simple Ways to Reduce Office Paper Waste and Make Better Use of the Paper You Need

A sound paper policy is built on three basic principles -- using less paper, recycling paper and buying environmentally preferable paper.

Here are some strategies to consider implementing in your office:

Using Less and Reusing More


  • Use email instead of paper or faxes whenever practical, both for internal memos and for communications with clients and customers.
  • Don't print email messages. Put the words "Don't print this email unless you really need to" at the bottom of all emails.
  • Print less: Keep mailing lists current. Don't print more copies than you need or order extra on outside print jobs.
  • Reuse what you can. Stock your fax machine with paper already printed on one side; reuse oversize envelopes and boxes; re-use one-sided "draft" paper in your printers.

Printers and Copiers

  • As printers and copiers need to be replaced, reduce the number of printers you buy to save money, energy and office space. Purchase units that can print on both sides of a sheet of paper. Then set all computers and copiers to default to double-sided printing.
  • Save and collect 8.5 by 11 inch paper that's been printed on one side, restack it neatly, designate a paper drawer on each printer (or as many printers as practical) for this paper, and use it to print drafts.
  • Adjust the house style on word processing programs to use a slightly smaller font and slightly wider margins.
  • Work on drafts electronically, using "edit" and "comment" word-processing features, instead of working on paper.

Incoming Mail

  • Cut down on the number of periodical subscriptions you buy. Survey to see who subscribes to what, then trim duplicates and work out a sharing system. One way to share information is to circulate the table of contents for each periodical.
  • Reduce the amount of unwanted mail your company receives. The National Waste Prevention Coalition provides a postcard to send to mailers to have your name removed from lists: (See more resources and suggestions for curbing business junk mail at

Office Kitchen

  • Stock the kitchen with reusable mugs, plates, bowls, and utensils to discourage the use of paper and plastic disposables. Consider cloth napkins, or use paper towels with high postconsumer recycled content.
  • Encourage employees who carry in lunches to use reusable bags and napkins.
  • Encourage the use of tap water instead of bottled water.

Recycling More

  • Distribute recycling bins for paper to every workstation and make sure the cleaning crew knows what they're for.
  • Post signs in centralized areas to encourage reuse and recycling, and to educate staff on what can and cannot be recycled.

Buying Better Paper

  • Buy paper with the highest percentage of postconsumer recycled content available, never settling for less than 30 percent for uncoated paper or 10 percent for coated stock.
  • After maximizing postconsumer recycled content, consider paper that contains other recovered materials, such as preconsumer recycled content or agricultural residues. (See the Common Vision document for other priorities in paper purchasing.)
  • Insist on "processed chlorine free" (PCF) paper. (What's PCF paper?)
  • Always avoid paper made from 100 percent virgin pulp.
  • If you do buy paper with virgin fiber content, be sure the virgin fiber comes from sustainably managed forests. Look for paper products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). If FSC paper is unavailable, ask your paper supplier to provide you with "Chain of Custody" information on the origins of the fiber in the paper products you purchase, and ask if the manufacturer of the paper has a policy to protect endangered forests. (Their policy should meet the criteria laid out here.)
  • Create a corporate purchasing policy that clearly outlines your goals and preferences for paper buying.
  • On printed materials, include a line about the environmental characteristics of the paper you use.
  • If you have a choice, buy products wrapped in the least packaging. Buy in bulk or in larger containers.

See our Toolkit for sample purchasing specs from a major company.

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The Paper Business, Present and Future

Paper Industry Overview

last revised 10.29.07

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