What The World Really Needs Is More Love And Less Paper Work…

If you’re like me, receipts seem to multiply in your wallet, balling up or shredding and generally making a mess, until I throw them away in annoyance.

I for one, certainly don’t need a paper receipt.  To me, paper receipts represent a wasteful vestige of the last millennium. In fact, there is no reason – legal or otherwise – why consumers or retailers need paper receipts anymore. Electronic receipts are completely valid and they are far more efficient.  Moreover, the production of paper receipts do some real damage to our environment.


The first paper-like substance was invented by the Egyptians; over 6,000 years ago. Papyrus which is the root of our English word paper; was made by weaving reeds or other fibrous plants together and pounding them into a flat sheet. The Greeks and the Romans also used this technique, although some Ancient Greek paper makers were the first to create a kind of parchment paper made out of animal skins.

Having come a long way from using rags and mulberry bark, papermaking has become a sophisticated science. Once a tree is cut down, it goes to a mill where it is debarked and then chipped into tiny fragments by a series of whirling blades. These fragments are then “cooked” in a vat with water and several chemicals, including caustic soda and sodium sulfate, to make a gooey slurry known as pulp. In the final stages, additives such as starch, China clay, talc and calcium carbonate are added to the pulp to improve the strength and brightness of the paper. Then the pulp is bleached to a white color using water and chlorine before being pressed into rolls and dried.

Unfortunately, the papermaking process is not a clean one. Paper has a profound effect on the environment. According to the Environmental Paper Network (EPN), choices about paper use and selection are some of the easiest, and most significant actions people can take to impact the planet.

But we need no further encouragement. We’re already wedded to the stuff; paper is our second skin. We devour it: any kind, from anywhere. For better and for worse, paper remains our absolute all-time favorite self-extending prosthetic technology and device. It enables and represents the best of us, and the worst.

Civilization is built on paper. Paper money has made our economies. Paper maps divided our land. Paper laws propped up our governments, and paper books helped shape our minds. Despite the obvious encroachments of the digital, we all still use so much paper to note, to register, to measure, to account for, to classify, authorize, endorse and generally to tot up, gee up and make good our lives that it would be a Joycean undertaking to provide a full history of all the paper in just one life on one day, never mind in one city on one day, or in the life of one nation.

Interminable, but not everlasting. The history of paper is the history of our lives, but unless saved for posterity in a real or an imaginary museum it is destined, ultimately, for oblivion. At the dawning of the Age of the Digital, isn’t it time we acknowledged and celebrated the Age of Paper?

Take a minute to look around the room you’re in and notice how many things are made out of paper. There may be books, a few magazines, some printer paper, and perhaps a poster on the wall. Yet, if you consider that each person in the United States uses 749 pounds (340kg) of paper every year (adding up to a whopping 187 billion pounds (85 billion kg) per year for the entire population, by far the largest per capita consumption rate of paper for any country in the world), then you realize that paper comes in many more forms than meets the eye.

World consumption of paper has grown 400 percent in the last 40 years. Now nearly 4 billion trees or 35 percent of the total trees cut around the world are used in paper industries on every continent. Besides what you can see around you, paper comes in many forms from tissue paper to cardboard packaging to stereo speakers to electrical plugs to home insulation to the sole inserts in your tennis shoes. In short, paper is everywhere.

For centuries, paper was a rare and precious commodity. Today, paper is a fundamental part of life and its existence is taken for granted. Each year, the world produces more than 300 million tons of paper. The United States annually con- sumes 4 million tons of copy paper, 2 billion books, 350 million magazines and 25 billion newspapers. U.S. households receive nearly 90 billion pieces of commercial “junk mail” in a year. Proof of our paper addiction is in our garbage cans—paper comprises 40 percent of U.S. municipal solid waste.

According to the U.S. Toxic Release Inventory report published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), pulp and paper mills are among the worst polluters to air, water and land of any industry in the country. The Worldwatch Institute offers similar statistics for the rest of the world. Each year millions of pounds of highly toxic chemicals such as toluene, methanol, chlorine dioxide, hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde are released into the air and water from papermaking plants around the world.

Paper’s impact on the environment continues even after it has been thrown away. As at early 2008 in the United States, paper and paperboard accounted for the largest portion (34percent) of the municipal waste stream, and 25 percent of discards after recovery of materials for recycling and composting. The problem with all this paper being thrown away is not just about landfill space. Once in a landfill, paper has the potential to decompose and produce methane, a greenhouse gas with 21 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide (UNEP).

Finally, transportation throughout the system also has significant environmental impacts. Harvested trees or recovered paper are transported to pulp mills, rolls of paper are transported to converters, and finished paper products are transported to wholesale distributors and then on to their retail point of sale. Transportation at each of these stages consumes energy and results in greenhouse gas emissions.

The promise we can all go paperless has been around for years so why is it that despite email, smart phones and computers we are all still so dependent on pen and paper?

Whatever happened to the “paperless office”? Thirty years ago the rise of computers was hailed as the beginning of the paperless-office era. In a 1980 briefing in The Economist entitled “Towards the paperless office”, it was recommended that businesses try to improve productivity by “reducing the flow of paper, ultimately aiming to abolish it. Since then, alas, global paper consumption has increased by half. The average American uses the paper equivalent of almost six 40-foot (12-metre) trees a year.

If you look around today, we are literally surrounded by technologies that promise to redefine the way that manufacturers and retailers interact with consumers. Electronic commerce is perhaps the most visible, but we also have web-enabled kiosks, electronic shelf labels, body scanning, hand-held shopping assistants, self-checkouts and virtual reality displays among others. So you might ask, “Why should we get excited about digital receipts? Don’t paper receipts work just fine?”


In my opinion the answer is no.  They clutter up pockets and fill up purses, yet can never be found when you need to get a refund. Cash registers began giving out receipts at the end of the 19th Century.

Our wallets are one of the last remaining bastions of a pre-digital lifestyle, relics of an era of payment that has since come and gone.

Over the past several years, most of us have noticed that our bills, magazines, newspapers, and books are all available in digital form.  Many have been quick to point out the implications of this have been detrimental to the struggling paper industry.  However, for those of you who thought that by the end of 2012, we would have paperless offices, that time still remains in the far distance.

I’ve been surprised at how difficult it is to let go of paper. As I move more and more of my paper to a digital format I keep finding myself hesitating when I get ready to shred a document. We are trained so very well to keep our paper records.

The average desk of anyone carrying out a literature review is buried in a deep pile of disorganized paper. Which is more, many of the papers are printed out two, three or even more times, because it was so difficult to find the original “needle” in the proverbial “haystack” of organizational hell.  Many people simply prefer to read paper. They prefer the look, feel but perhaps most importantly, paper documents are genuinely easier to read, owing the fact the they are not pixelated, nor backlit, both of which can cause eye strain, especially after days and days of repeatedly staring at a screen.

However, paper has its drawbacks too. It’s not possible (without a lot of effort and sacrificing a lot of trees) to have your paper article library in more than one place. This means that you can’t just look through your filing system and pull out a relevant paper in any particular place. This may seem like a trivial matter but in reality, having a physical library of journal articles ties you to only being able to do your literature review in one particular place. This is bad news, as changing your scenery while working is more often than not critical for keeping productivity levels high.

In the age of technology, we really have very little reason to use paper. Most meeting rooms have a projector and screen, data can be instantly emailed, and many people bring their own pads of paper or have electronic tablets for note-taking. Printing, then, is the continuance of years of archaic traditions. But really, just because people used to wear codpieces, does that mean we should continue to wear them? Of course not!

Coupons are now Groupons, rewards cards are digitally stored on our smartphones and Square wants to power all our payments. With all these new ways to slim down and streamline our wallets, why are we still getting a paper receipt every time we check out at the grocery store? With so much progress, why are men still sporting the infamous Costanza bulge and women toting around pocketbooks that look like small filing cabinets? As more commerce shifts from offline to online, and even offline retailers are experimenting with digital marketing & transactions, the Costanza wallet is due for a makeover.

 They are environmentally damaging and onerous for the consumer to store safely.

A paperless society might be ideal for many reasons: it is environmentally friendly because fewer trees would need to be cut down for the paper and it would also limit the amount of chemicals and plastics required for making printer ink cartridges. But until it becomes a reality, the commercial storage of physical documents continues to be a necessity.

The paradox of the digital age, at least until the economy soured, is that a Web-connected, wireless world was using far more paper than it did before trashing its typewriters. With greater access to information comes the convenience of the printer, the 100-copy click and the Mapquest directions you toss in your car.

Meanwhile, book sales and global paper production keep rising, and Christmas shoppers remain miffed by gift receipts the length of their arms.

A paperless society might be ideal for many reasons: it is environmentally friendly because fewer trees would need to be cut down for the paper and it would also limit the amount of chemicals and plastics required for making printer ink cartridges. But until it becomes a reality, the commercial storage of physical documents continues to be a necessity.

Making more efficient use of paper is good for forests, climate and public health, good for organizational budgets and competitiveness.

We should call upon the paper industry to adopt the ‘Precautionary Principle’ with regard to the use of natural resources and chemicals throughout the production process and to refrain from activities that could potentially cause irreparable harm to human health and the environment. Communities’ rights to a healthy environment, workers’ rights to beneficial employment, and indigenous peoples’ rights to control their traditional lands and protect their cultural identity are fundamental. Industry has a responsibility to respect these rights.

In the meantime, by simply skipping our paper receipts — we could help save the earth by reducing your carbon footprint. Not just in general, but in specific, calculated terms.

Live and Learn. We All Do.

Thanks for reading. Please pass this on to someone who means something to you.

Please don’t forget to leave a comment.

About julia29

Hi. My name is Julia El-Haj. I am a Hall of Fame Athlete, an MBA, Professional Certified Marketer, Certified Youth Fitness Trainer, a Specialist in Sports Nutrition and a licensed Real Estate agent. I gave up my "seat at the table" to be home with my 3 children because that's where I was needed most. I blog about everything with Wellness in mind.
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