BLACK VOICES
01/31/2014 03:43 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2014

Using Paper Alternatives Is A Small Change That Could Make A Big Difference

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As we move further into the digital age, one would think our use of paper would continue to diminish, but alas, that is not the case. Between corporations, schools, postage and even our own personal care usage, we still rely heavily on using paper in all its various forms.

Projections for paper usage are astounding as they are expected to increase by 46 percent by 2040. With many tree-free, eco-friendly alternatives available, here are some options available to reduce our reliance on trees and hopefully reduce the 40 percent of paper products that make up US landfills.

Besides most conventional paper being made from wood pulp, chlorine is also used in the bleaching process. Chlorine is made of toxic chemicals which have been identified as cancer causing agents. Many of the alternative papers are not bleached at all or use sustainable oxygen-compounds for processing.

When sourcing office supplies such as office paper, notebooks, and envelopes, choose a supply that uses as much post-consumer recycled content as feasible. The amount of post-consumer waste, or PCW, will vary depending on the manufacturer, but if 100 percent PCW paper is available, that is the best option.

For journals, notepads, postcards, stationery and gift cards, seemingly exotic and earthy options are plentiful and varied like hemp-based paper that is 100 percent wood free. Small businesses are starting to produce these items using natural materials and fibers from cotton, banana, tobacco, citrus, coffee bean, bamboo, bagasse, and recycled fabrics. Even paper made from excrement is surfacing in the market, specifically elephant dung paper. But not to worry, the process of making poo paper involves a series of sterilizations, washing, and processing until fibers are left over to create paper.

One of the most used forms of paper are disposable toilet paper and paper towels. On average, an adult uses over 20,000 sheets of toilet paper a year and more than 3,000 tons of disposable paper towel waste are produced in the United States. In order to produce one ton of paper towels, 17 trees are cut down and 20,000 gallons of water are used in the process.

Post-consumer waste, recycled toilet paper is readily available with increasing options made from bamboo and even sugar cane fibers. Choose tissue that is free of dyes, fragrances, or coloring. For bathroom tissue, check that is made from 100 percent recycled content and at least 20 percent post-consumer waste. For paper towels, it should also be 100 percent recycled content with at least 40 percent post-consumer waste. Also pay attention to packaging, choosing a brand that uses recycled materials or material that can be recycled easily.

In the spirit of DIY, for handkerchiefs, tea towels, and napkins, re-purpose old clothing and fabrics that can be washed and reused. All of these tidbits can be applied to other forms of paper products we use. To replace disposable paper plates, use reusable and washable bamboo plates or new options available produced from sugar cane, corn, and even palm leaves.

By investing some time to find tree-free options, not only do you reduce the endless waste that ends up in landfills, but you protect generations of forests that will supply clean air for years to come. Making seemingly small adjustments play a major part in turning the tide of unnecessary waste and create a renewed culture of resourcefulness.

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