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The environmental cost of CTRL-P?

Ben Watson, Group Manager for Adobe’s Developer Relations Team, has posted a great article on his blog IMHO about the environmental damage (in terms of tree cost) caused by society’s insistence on printing everything.

Ben eloquently concludes, after extensive Google based research and some nifty maths work :o), that ubiquitous printer use has “nothing to do with technology preference, choice or anything like that. It is still all about lifestyle, choices, safe thinking and preservation of ritual”

It’s that last bit - ‘preservation of ritual’ that strikes the biggest chord with me. I’ve always thought that one of the biggest obstacles for any organisation aiming for paperless operation was those stubborn individuals who stick by their ‘that’s the way it’s always been done’ ethos and never ever move to a more paper friendly computerised operation (the more aged universities are notorious for this). Ben however highlights another group of people – those who have moved to using computers but seem to take comfort in exercising nostalgic preservation by printing copies of everything electronic.

So how best to deal with Ben’s paper hogs?  Simple! Either remove their ability to print by taking away their beloved printers (or at least only let them print from a designated area requiring them to exert a bit more effort then just hitting the PRINT button) or reduce the temptation by imposing a ‘per page’ charge for printing.

In his article Ben also presents some interesting ‘cost to trees’ facts leeched from Conservatree which are so good that I’m going to leech them too:

  • 1 ton of uncoated virgin (non-recycled) printing and office paper uses 24 trees
  • 1 ton of 100% virgin (non-recycled) newsprint uses 12 trees
  • A "pallet" of copier paper (20-lb. sheet weight, or 20#) contains 40 cartons and weighs 1 ton. Therefore,
  • 1 carton (10 reams) of 100% virgin copier paper uses .6 trees
  • 1 tree makes 16.67 reams of copy paper or 8,333.3 sheets
  • 1 ream (500 sheets) uses 6% of a tree (and those add up quickly!)
  • 1 ton of coated, higher-end virgin magazine paper (used for magazines like National Geographic and many others) uses a little more than 15 trees (15.36)

As the icing on the cake Ben presents a series of paper reducing tips that are well worth a read. I especially love his sugestions to "keep all the things you print out in your laptop bag each week so it makes it clear if you have a printing problem" and to "make all your graphics and illustrations 72 dpi or 96 dpi so they look great on screen but suck when printed"


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My Environmental Issues seminar is doing a project on the comparative effects of having a "paperless" class. We need to find out if it is more environmentally friendly to always use computers or to print some things. We're looking at such issues as land, water, air, and energy needs for both computers and paper production. Do you have any tips on how to find reliable info about the waste involved with paper production?
Sweet blog, by the way.

Zuleika - I'm so very very sorry. I've been so busy with uni I've not visited my blog and therefore completely missed your question. Sounds like a very worthwhile project and the dilemma your trying to study is one I also wonder about constantly. I really couldn't point you with any authority to any definitive resources on the waste involved with paper production. All I could suggest is going to visit environmental groups such as Greenpeace who would carry a lot of articles on this subject.

Sorry I can't be more specific. Good luck with the project and if I can help in any easier way then just let me know

I have to say... I really love the title of this post. Ingenious.

Thank you for your kind words simpleblob. I can't take all the credit though. The concept of CTRL-P was getting bounced around a bit by the author of the original article. I just took it and adapted it for a suitable title

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