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How to Cut Down on Paper Packaging

Going paperless means more than getting rid of books and paper files; you should cut down on paper packaging, too.

One relatively simple way to pursue going 90% paperless is to cut down on paper packaging for consumer products that you bring into your home. This is an aspect of going paperless that some people completely miss or otherwise don't bother with, but there are sound, logical reasons for cutting back on packaging.

Let's take a look at the arguments for it, first, then move on to how you can do your part as you go paperless.

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Why Bother?

Well, why bother with going paperless in the first place? There are as many answers to that question as there are paperless proponents and we've discussed quite a few elsewhere. Let's just consider two other reasons here: a desire to simplify your life and a concern for the environment.

Let's look at the simplification argument first. This can be a hard one to get across, since some people believe going paperless in the first place requires advance planning and work. It can seem easier not to bother, to just keep drowning in paper as you've been doing.

But "drowning" is the key word here. You're a lot better off if you limit your paper intake altogether. There's much less clutter, less waste, and less expense overall, once you've gotten your paperless initiative underway.

As for the environmental issues: yes, you can recycle most packaging, and trees are an infinitely renewable resource. However, it takes non-renewable resources to make paper, it generates horrific levels of waste and pollution, it clogs landfills, and it's just easier all around if we reduce the creation of paper packaging as much as possible.

So What Can You Do?

First of all, carry your own reusable shopping bags to the store. Not every store still uses paper bags, but many do, and there's no need to kill a tree when you can pack your groceries in a tote. Some companies, like Whole Foods, even give you a discount for bringing your own bags. Many warehouse stores, like Sam's Club or Costco, provide cardboard boxes for packing, which are even bulkier (if easier to recycle).

Admittedly, the warehouse stores are recycling in their own way, since the boxes they provide came with the product they stock. But unless you need those boxes for moving, leave them for others to use.

Speaking of warehouse stores, they're great places to buy products in bulk. You'll still end up with some paper packaging, but since the items come in economy sizes, the amount of paper will be lessened somewhat. And while you're at it, simply choose items that seem to use less packaging than others.

Other Ideas

Individually packaged servings, and prepackaged foods in general, should be avoided, since they maximize paper waste. Instead of buying a cardboard package of broccoli, why not buy a fresh bunch instead?

Similarly, buying a big bottle of juice is a lot more logical than buying a bunch of juice boxes. You can always parcel it out in individual containers instead, and the package -- whether, plastic, or glass -- can still be recycled.

When it comes to non-food items, consider shopping for used items before you opt for new ones. It's rare to find used items in any kind of packaging; you just pick them up and take them home.

And finally, two words: don't overbuy. Buy only what you need and no more, and you'll inevitably end up with less paper waste.

Bon Voyage, Paper!

Paper packaging is easy to miss when you're revving up to launch your 90% paperless program, but it comprises a surprising amount of paper waste (in all senses of the word). Fortunately, it's easy and cheap to cut down on paper packaging, if you just keep your eyes and mind open!