Thursday, December 30, 2010

The 2011 Paper Diet: Prelude

The paper diet is something I tried to do last year. I tried to document my entire paper usage. I told the story to E magazine, but after one column they didn’t have space to publish it anymore. And I got frustrated. Why was I keeping these careful records for something that was going nowhere?

Being an inventive woman, I’ve decided to undergo the paper diet again. But this time I will be in charge of whatever it gets posted, when, because I will own the blog it’s posted on. If some rich publisher wants to give me money for it eventually, fine, but at least the message will be out there.

The facts: The average American uses about ¾ of a tree per year; and a tree makes (on average), 80,500 sheets of paper. A sheet of paper weights 4.5 grams, and an ounce is about 28.3 grams. That means that there are 6.29 sheets of paper per ounce. According to, the average person uses 580 pounds per person of paper per year. That translates to a staggering 58,371 sheets of paper.

I’ve decided to limit myself to just 5,837 sheets of paper for the entire year. Because I’m sane, I’ve decided that certain categories of paper simply don’t count. For example, paper used for bodily fluid clean up is off limits towards the total count. I’m all for saving the planet, but I’m also for avoiding nasty infections. Even if I wanted to do that, I don’t think my poor immune system would take it.
As a health educator, I can tell you that a 90% reduction in anything is, at best, very difficult- and at worse, dangerous.

But starting January first, I’m going to try. Unlike two years ago, when I began the paper diet the first time, I have not printed out a bunch of my magazines in advanced. This can be a problem. If I go to an event and need to put in a big order, that’s going to reduce my paper count.

However, I have looked at a case of paper, which by the way is 10 of those big 500 sheet paper packets, which usually takes me a month to go through, even if I’m not being paper conscious- which I usually am. The first time I ever saw a case of paper was when I tried the diet the first time. For awhile it just sat in my living room because I was awed by it’s enormity. I sit there thinking that the average American goes through 116 of these. That’s nauseating! On that January day, I couldn’t imagine going through even half of one in a year, despite the fact that I make my living using what my housemate calls “dead tree format”.

I’m a writer, according to myself and the IRS. I know that editors and grant committees want everything printed in triplicate. I also know that editors, even environmentally friendly ones, tend to think you don’t respect them if you send them a manuscript on reused paper. This is bad for your credibility. But during the three months I was on the diet I had no problem with this. I still have 7 reams of paper left over from that experience. Plus, if I needed to, I could buy one more ream and have 337 sheets left over in addition. I think I’ll be fine!

What I learned from my diet attempt:

1. You can always write a shopping list or make notes on paper that’s been printed on both sides.
2. Post-It notes, despite their small size, do not actually save paper.
3. When you’re printing a large job with multiple copies, print one item first just to make sure it’s the way you wanted it to look.
4. As with all things, you should really be mindful of your paper usage. A lot of things don’t really need to be printed up. Something can go right in your calendar or forward the email to a friend.

Things I am still concerned about:

1. When I was on the diet before, it was hard to keep up with my paper usage. This is because I had a deadline of every Friday, and being that I am somewhat of a procrastinating person- I admit it- I tended to wait until Thursday night to update my journal. This mean I had invariably forgotten to include a page or two. It wasn’t that I was trying to lie, it was just what happened. I figured this problem will be eliminated now that I am in control of the platform now.

2. I bought notebooks to keep with me, as I’m a writer and sometimes need to take notes. The problem was, I would always forget where I put the notebook. One of them is wandering around in Philadelphia, homeless, I’m sure. Since I got a laptop, I’m quite sure I won’t need as many notebooks and won’t forget it.

3. I tend to print out a lot of stuff for various activism projects and organizations. But, if I am using my own paper, I think this has to count against my paper count. I am tempted to issue a “this is for justice” edict, and therefore make an exception. But then I realize, if everybody did that the project would have no value. It’s all fine and good to want to fight for worker’s rights, or disability rights, or whatever, but don’t trees make the air we breathe? What’s it going to matter if people can join unions, escape nursing homes, or whatever matters to you if no one can breathe?

Unlike last time, I’m going to get my paper from Collective Copies- one of my favorite stores in Amherst. They are worker owned and have 100% recycled paper. An entire case is $45. Here I also have to give props to Hastings Store in Amherst, who today instead making a sell for themselves when I called about the price of paper told me to Collective Copies because they are cheaper. I won’t be buying my paper at Hastings, but I will be shopping there because they have good business ethics and I like to reward that. This is especially true since I found out that my favorite corporate computer store, Best Buy, has decided to partition the Supreme Court that their corporation is actually a person. One of my favorite t-shirts says “Slavery is the legal fiction that a person is property Corporate personhood is legal fiction that property is a person.” While I’ll miss my main guy Mario at the Hadley Best Buy, not one more dime of my money will they see!

All this is happening as I prepare to undertake the paper diet, in less than 36 hours. It’s a much different scenario than when I pitched the original idea in E Magazine in November of 2010. I really wish I was more prepared, but life is what it is. As always, breathe deeply and dive in.