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Five ways your business can save paper and help protect the environment (includes free poster)

Fax machines. Inter-departmental memos. The twice daily mail-delivery… Facets of business life that have pretty much disappeared over the last couple of decades, as we have welcomed in the much-heralded paperless office.

But if we are honest, while things have definitely changed, we haven’t really gone paperless yet, have we? After all, paper is still the most common waste for offices right across Scotland today.

And the trouble is, there can actually be a number of negative environmental impacts associated with the production of new (‘virgin’) paper. These include the loss of natural habitat, water stress due to intensive tree farming, and high chemical and energy use in the manufacturing process. 

Then there are of course the detrimental effects that come from the landfilling and incinerating of wasted paper. 

Wasting paper isn’t just bad for the environment. Purchasing and then paying to dispose of wasted paper affects your bottom line too. So, it makes good business sense to use paper, and all resources, wisely.

The good news is, taking action to reduce paper can be quite easy. In fact, it’s estimated that while the average office worker uses up to 45 sheets of paper a day, around two thirds of that is considered waste. An efficient office can use as little as 16 sheets of paper per person per day. 

Here are five ways your business can save paper and do its bit to protect the environment…


1. Use our free poster to encourage staff to print smarter 

There a lot of ways to reduce the amount of paper you use simply by printing smarter. Could that draft report or email be checked on screen, rather than printed off to read? Where printing is needed, can you reduce the quality of initial drafts, print on both sides of the page, or print four pages to a sheet? 

We’ve designed a fun poster you can put up next your printers to remind staff of the ways they can print smarter and to encourage them to think before they print and become a ‘model printer’. You can download the poster here.


2. Organise your printers

Many businesses have done this already, so if you haven’t, consider reducing the number of printers, particularly desk printers in your office. The latter are expensive to run and the convenience they provide actually encourages people to print many items they wouldn’t otherwise.  

While you are at it, set all your printers to double-sided format as default – using both sides can reduce paper use by up to 50%. 

You might also want to look at monitoring printing levels by giving employees a personal access code to your printers. You could then consider posting a league table next to the printer – it’s amazing how people can quickly change their behaviours when they see just how much they are printing and how much paper they are using compared to colleagues. 

Many businesses also collect paper that has been printed on one side only, and re-use it for printing draft documents or for message pads. Others also shred their waste paper and re-use it as packaging infill.


3. Buy recycled paper

Paper is made from a natural resource, but it can be recycled up to five times. So, speak to your supplier about buying recycled paper if you don’t do that already.

Recycled papers are as readily available and have equivalent quality, ‘printability’, appearance and range as new papers. As a rule, you should try to use papers with the highest percentage of post-consumer waste, preferably 100%, rather than paper that is composed of pre-consumer waste (i.e. printers’ virgin offcuts). 


4. Buy thinner paper

Yes, paper comes in different weights. Thinner paper means less material (i.e. trees) are in each page, less energy has been used in the manufacturing process and less energy is needed in the printing process to apply ink. 

So again, speak to your supplier about buying thinner paper – 80 grams per square metre (gsm) paper is standard and is suitable for routine printing. If you’re using paper that’s thicker than 80gsm for normal printing, you’ll be able to make this improvement with one small change in your next paper order. 


5. Recycle used paper

If you are going to buy recycled paper, it’s equally important to ensure you recycle your waste paper too. 

Scotland took the biggest step forward ever seen in waste management, collection and recycling in January 2014 when the new Waste (Scotland) Regulations come into force. 

Since then, our workplaces have been transformed, with more businesses recycling more paper, card, plastic, metals, glass and food than ever before. 

Asking staff to adopt and maintain new behaviours isn’t always easy though. Five years on, do you still find recyclable paper in your general waste bin more often than you would like? 

If so, try placing paper recycling bins in all offices. A good guide is one bin between six staff. And also ensure that cleaning staff are in support of the recycling scheme. Once you’ve done that, staff engagement is key, and you should promote recycling by displaying posters around the office and on bins explaining the types of paper that can be recycled. 

Our free poster tool in our staff engagement toolkit allows you to create eye-catching recycling signage to help your employees know what to recycle and where. You can use the tool to make your own signage customised to the recyclable materials most commonly found in your office. It also includes a range of ready-made recycling posters and advice on providing staff with ongoing feedback.


So, there you have it, five ways your business can save paper and help protect the environment. And don’t forget, if you think your business could do more to reduce its environmental impact, we have a team of friendly advisors and lots more free resources here to help you. 

If you’re a Scottish SME, we can provide you with a free assessment to identify new projects, and we can also provide support and interest-free loans to help you get your projects off the ground. Get in touch with our team on 0808 808 2268 or by email – they would be delighted to help you.


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Resource Efficient Scotland is a programme from Zero Waste Scotland. Free support to business is funded by the Scottish Government and by the European Regional Development Fund through the £73 million Resource Efficiency Circular Economy Accelerator Programme.