Unplug this blog!

Going paperless at home

Posted by Nola Poirier

I'm a neat freak, with one exception: my desk. I can keep the kitchen fairly tidy, even with an unfinished renovation, a bubbling stream of summertime guests, various foster dogs, and regular feasts, but I can't keep on top of the books and bills and stacks of papers that find their way to my desk.

And the mess from so much paper goes a lot deeper than my desktop piles. The computer age has made it possible to generate paper faster than our forests and our freshwater can handle.

Some scary statistics to ponder:

  • Deforestation and land use shifts contribute 20 to 25 percent of the carbon
    emissions that cause climate change.
  • Half of the trees cut commercially around the world end up in paper products.
  • On average it takes 300 litres of water to produce one kilogram of paper.

Taking action

In an effort to minimize the impact of my paper use and to reduce the clutter in my life, I am making an effort to go as paperless as possible.


Some paper use is easy to cut out, bills in particular. Most utility companies like phone and power are on board with the paperless movement. They offer the option of e-bills which you can pay online, or in many of the same ways you would pay a paper bill.

A great place to start is to go paperless with your BC Hydro bill. Switch off your paper bill and go with the online option that includes email remainders when your online bill is ready to view, history of your payments and your consumption information, and access to up to 12 months of previous bills in PDF format.

Another paperless billing option is to sign up for Canada Post's free epost system, which allows you to create an online mailbox for all your credit card, utility, and other bills. You can view and pay bills anytime, even when you're out of the country, and epost will store them in your account for up to seven years.

Junk mail:

One person's junk mail is often another person's junk mail too – but not always. So your mail carrier can't sort out what is junk for you. To stop the waste, make a note for your mailbox stating that you do not wish to receive Unaddressed Admail.

If you get door-to-door delivery, put the note on your mailbox. If you have a community mailbox, group mailbox or a postal box, place it on the inside lip.

In some areas, the letter carrier might still require you to download a form and mail it to the nearest Canada Post outlet.

Note that unaddressed mail includes some community mailings and municipal government notices.

Yellow Pages:

For some people, yellow pages still have their place, but for many the unwieldy books go straight into the blue bin. Most companies now offer a means to opt-out.

Yellow Media Inc. (the Yellow Pages Group) produces the Yellow Pages for many B.C. communities (they recently purchased CanPages as well), and they let you opt-out by filling out a form that comes inside the book. If your yellow pages aren't Yellow Pages, contact the distribution company to find out how you can stop receiving your copy.

Newspapers, Magazines and Books:

Many newspapers are available online, some even offer added options like archive searches, videos, and links to more information. As well, magazines and newspapers are both available at public libraries where it's free to use them, and you leave them behind for other users when you're finished.

Not ready to give up all your paper reading yet? Try sharing subscriptions. You can have a newspaper delivered to your home, then take it to the office to share. Or share a magazine subscription with a friend you know is also a subscriber.

Books too have many paperless options. Reading online isn't for everyone, but new tablet readers like Kindles and iPads are making it more popular.

As an avid reader, and probable Luddite, I feel that books are meant to be held in the hand and smell like books. I reduce the resources it takes to print them by getting them from the library or waiting a few months and searching used bookstores and online booksellers that offer used copies.

Home Office:

The risk with some paper reduction in the home office is that the reductions can be transferred into energy use increases from spending more time on the computer. The trick is to find a balance so that you can reduce paper and use your equipment efficiently to save energy as well.

Some tips to save home office paper:

  • Print double-sided to cut paper use for some projects in half.
  • Reduce the margins on documents you print to reduce the number of pages.
  • Email reports, essays, and assignments whenever possible and avoid printing
    off hardcopies.
  • Create a digital signature so you can send documents by email instead of fax.
  • Check out the Lifehacker website for more great tips on paperless home offices.


Paper towels, tissues, and toilet paper absorb a high percentage of paper use. In fact, roughly 10 percent of the world's daily paper use gets flushed.

I had a roommate once who used flannel, washable toilet paper that he'd made. It was an admirable commitment to the environment, but it's certainly not for everyone. Two more appealing ways to reduce how many trees we flush are: to use less toilet paper, and to source post consumer recycled – and unbleached – products. Many standard grocery stores carry these options.

Paper towels are easily replaced with rags and cloths. Old t-shirts, socks, underwear, towels, and torn-up sheets all make great rags for all kinds of uses.

Instead of tissues, you can use handkerchiefs. They are softer on your nose and on the planet. When I'm around the house, I use my ever-growing selection of single socks to blow on. If I'm going out on the town, I try to take something a bit more understated.

In addition to reducing your paper consumption, don't forget to reuse and recycle. Select products with less and more recyclable packaging, cut up old paper to use for lists, use a white board or chalk board for messages and notes, and reuse envelopes and wrapping paper.

You can use old paper products you already have for kid's crafts (donate them to a daycare if you don't have children), or as notepaper or packaging material.

Of course, it's difficult to go completely paperless. There are receipts and records for taxes that you need to keep for seven years, birth and marriage certificates, and other key documents like RRSP contribution notices, diplomas, and licenses.

Consult a tax advisor to find out what records you need to keep and how long you need to keep them. Some regulations vary depending on your location and financial activity. For some general tips on what to keep and for how long, visit Get Rich Slowly. It's U.S. based, but much of the information applies in Canada as well.

Some encouraging statistics to ponder:

  • Each ton of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space, 4,000 kilowatts of energy and 7,000 gallons of water.
  • One pound of newspaper can be recycled to make six cereal boxes, six egg cartons or 2,000 sheets of writing paper.
  • Reducing paper use benefits indigenous land rights, health, plant and animal biodiversity, air and water quality, and climate change.

Nola Poirier is a Sunshine Coast-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Unplug This Blog! and bchydro.com's Green Guides.

Source: BC Hydro News