Minimalism Project: Week 1

This week, I worked on: paper products

Trashed: 

  • Old Notecards
  • Old Notebooks
  • Old books that I know won’t sell for sure

For future sales/donation: 

  • Old textbooks
  • Old leisure reading books. 

I just read about the price that humans have to pay for making paper this morning in the book “The Story of Stuff” by Annie Leonard and the price is ridiculous. 

I’ve always had the misconception that paper are made from mostly plants, it should be fine in terms of decomposing and environmental effects. Sadly, it is a whole different story. 

Let’s go from the first step: cutting down the trees. 

Even with digitalization coming hard at us, the amount of paper circulating in this society still cannot be underestimated. From junk letters filled our mailboxes to school supplies then to legal documents, there is still an non-negligible proportion of people prefer paper over electronics. It is said that 14% of deforestation is due to our demand for paper (https://paperontherocks.com/2018/11/28/environmental-impact-of-deforestation-paper-production/). And “each year, about 30 million trees are used to make books sold in the United States. To give you a visual, there are about 26,000 trees in Central Park, so to make our books we use more than 1,150 times that number” (“The Story of Stuff”).

And the effects, I think everybody should know by this time, are deadly. The homeland of many species and indigenous people are destroyed; we do not have as many trees to absorb the greenhouse gases; and also the soil can be too dry to grow crops, as well as the fact the less trees are holding the soil in place, which in turn becomes a mud flood sometimes. 

(To read in depth: https://www.pachamama.org/effects-of-deforestation)

Then we move on to make paper, either for the first time from wood or second time with recycled paper. Here is when pulping gets involved. Pulping in paper production is the process to separate the fiber from other unwanted elements from wood (or used paper).

Common pulping methods are mechanical and chemical pulping (another method called chemi-mechanical pulping exits, but is used much less). In general, mechanical pulping more energy intensive but is twice as efficient as chemical pulping (“The Story of Stuff”) and pollutes the environment less (http://www.fao.org/3/v9933e/V9933E01.htm). While it seems to suffice the needs in the paper industry okay, the quality of the paper produced is not as desirable. As a result, people turned to chemical pulping, which produces paper with better quality. Generally speaking in environmental protection, chemicals are not the best for people’s health nor the environment, paper production also falls under this case: chemicals can leak out during the pulping process; also, the amount of chemical remaining in the paper has the potentiality of getting into human bodies. 

Much more chemical are involved in later steps, such as bleaching and coating, etc.

As humans, we can at least alleviate the situations mentioned above by properly recycling the paper and by reducing paper waste from the beginning.

So let’s talk about how to recycle paper, just some tips that you need to know. Fortunately, most paper is recyclable: cardboard, printed documents, notebooks. Unfortunately, there are exceptions to this, such as contaminated paper (oily pizza box), paper lined with plastic (some packaging or paper cups), etc. (Check out this blog for more: https://goingzerowaste.com/blog/how-to-recycle-paper-the-right-way/).

And some tips for reducing paper waste from the first place: 

  • Don’t get 10 notebooks/ stacks of paper on the first day of school, wait until you really see the need in class (I have to confess that this is a mistake I made). 
  • Use old copies of work as scratch paper.
  • Borrow/rent books or get second-hand copies.
  • Go Digital: 
    • Ipad with a proper stylus can be a very worthy and lasting investment. 
    • Electronic notepads are also good paperless alternatives that are a little more friendly to your eyes than ipads. 
    • Kindles are really for reading!
    • BUY SECOND HAND ELECTRONICS!(We’ll talk about electronics later).
  • Buy paper products that are made from recycled paper.
  • Try paper made from other plants such as bamboo.(Check out this article by earthhood to learn more about bamboo: https://theearthhood.org/2020/05/28/some-fun-facts-about-bamboo-sustainability/)

Wenqian L.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s