In an increasingly digitised world, we are constantly being pushed to read, write, draw, take tests, fill out forms, receive and pay bills, communicate with our friends – and the world – online.
While paper production contributes to deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, landfill and water pollution (which we all want to reduce), reading and communicating digitally requires ongoing energy and resource consumption in the manufacturing, use and disposal of electronic devices – which all have a huge environmental footprint.
Let’s face it, if the zombie apocalypse comes, we won’t be looking up cute cat memes or grandma’s favourite lamington recipe on our phones or making fires with our tablets.
We’ll be glad to have an old scrap book, map book, printed out first aid instructions and even some of those free supermarket cooking magazines – along with the know-how to use that paper for entertainment and other practical purposes!
Eco-warriors (like us!) need to fight off those zombies now! We need to find a balance! For sure, sustainability messages such as these raise awareness of waste creation and remind us to be mindful of the earth, but we don’t want to throw the book out with the bin (if you get what I mean!).
Unnecessarily printing out an email wastes paper, but this is not a rationale for moving away from paper in our everyday lives. Digital lifestyles may mitigate some environmental problems while creating others and there’s a social cost to be considered.
Recent research suggests that even the younger generation – the digital natives – understand and retain information better when they read it from physical texts.
There’s nothing like the feel of a good book in a quiet moment or with a sleepy child at bedtime; imagining your dream home/meal/outfit/trip while turning the pages of a fancy magazine; sharing a crossword puzzle with a friend; or thumbing through the latest edition of your free local neighbourhood newspaper.
Stories have volume, words have shapes, reading and writing are tactile experiences to be savoured. There’s cultural and social value to enjoying non-digitised texts.
So let’s look at nine ways we can alleviate paper guilt by minimising the impacts of the paper consumption in our own lives.
1. Gift to the sharing economy
Ever been to the doctor’s office and found nothing but meaningless, 3-year-old women’s fashion magazines for the “ladies” and tattered fishing magazines- for the blokes?
Why not re-purpose your gender neutral Big Issues, National Geographics, colouring books – or even some more recent trashy magazines lying around your home by giving them to them? Believe me, everyone will be grateful.
When you’re sick, waiting in the doctor’s office or dentist, no one wants to read about the most scandalous Golden Globe outfits or whether fashion icons should take their sunglasses off when they talk with the Queen. Well, at least not from 3 years ago.
No medical waiting rooms to share your old mags with? Why not try your local community centre, aged-care facility or street library – or start a swapping/sharing spot yourself?
2. Make more paper
One of the amazing things about paper is that you can recycle it back into paper yourself!
Making your own paper is fun, easy and requires little more than your old newspapers or magazines, some water, a screen and some material for drying your wet paper sheets.
3. Feed the garden
Put paper straight back in to the Earth! Recycle paper into seedling pots or use it as compost. Super simple, but take care to not go overboard!
Make biodegradable seedling pots. By simply layering and rolling sheets of paper around some soil to folding origami containers, newspaper pots are great to just pop in the ground.
When it comes to composting newspaper, as newspapers have largely moved to non-toxic inks, it’s generally thought to be ok to put your newspapers in the compost bin, use them in mulching or in as base for your new no-dig garden.
4. Refashion into arts and crafts
Go glam! Newsprint, now usually made with soy-based inks, can be lifted from the page and, in effect, re-printed onto other objects including your body! Newspaper nails anyone?
This use of old newspaper won’t make a huge dent in your pile, but certainly puts some glamour into recycling!
From papier mache, to basket weaving, there are a million crafty things you can do with old magazines and newspapers. Decoupage and scrapbooking are back in.
If you like the newsprint pattern but nail art is not for you, why not try this simple child-friendly leafy garland making idea. It features the newsprint and puts the nature back in to it at the same time.
If glamour and craft are not your cup of tea, here, thanks Friends of the Earth UK and friends, are some extremely practical uses of old newspaper that require only the skill of scrunching!
5. Clean windows and mirrors
Using an old newspaper to clean windows works better than a cloth for preventing streaks. For even better results, use a vinegar-and-water solution instead of a chemical cleaner.
6. Deodorise shoes, food containers and suitcases
Crumple up balls of newspaper and stuff them into smelly shoes or food containers. Leave them overnight and any odours will have disappeared. For big containers, such as suitcases, leave them in for a few weeks.
7. Shape shoes, bags and drying boots
Stuff your shoes, boots and bags with newspaper to help them keep their shape. Crumpled paper will also absorb moisture to help wet boots dry more quickly.
8. Clean oven or BBQ
Moistened, crumpled up newspaper can be used to scrub and mop up residue in ovens and barbies.
9. Achieve car wheel traction
If you’re stuck in slush, snow (or even mud?), placing a wad of newspaper under each rear wheel can help you get back on the road.
To prevent the zombie apocalypse, let’s get gardening and use some of these nifty strategies to repurposing our old papers and mags.
Remember to choose recycled paper and make sure we have our say on protecting forests and regulating the paper industry!
For more ideas, visit Friends of the Earth UK’s complete fabulous list.