Today's number: 700 lbs.

AP Photo/Jim Cole/FILE
A paper mill in Berlin, N.H.

The average American uses more than 700 pounds of paper each year.

[Source: Technical Association of the Pulp and Paper Industry]

That's more than eight fully developed trees. Making those trees into paper requires about 130 gallons of oil, about 2,500 gallons of water, and generates about 30 cubic feet of solid waste.

By comparison, the average Western European uses 440 pounds of paper annually, and the average African uses only 14 pounds.

What you can do

Recycle According to a report by the Environmental Paper Network, only about half of US office paper is recovered for recycling. The rest sits in landfills, where it decomposes and releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. According to the EPA, about one sixth of the mass in landfills is made up of paper. So we could all be recycling more. Check out Earth911 for details about recycling in your community.

Recycling is just a start, though. A paper fiber can be recycled only five to seven times before it becomes too short. So we'll also need ways to reduce our consumption, which brings us to . . .

Fiddle with the margins Remember in high school when you managed to turn eight pages of text into a 10-page term paper? Now it's time to do that in reverse. The default margins on Microsoft Word are 1.25 inches. Change it to 0.9 inches, thereby increasing the printable area by 10 percent. Now reduce the default font point size from 12 to 11.5 (another 5 percent savings), and the default line spacing from 1 to 0.95 (another 5 percent). You've just instituted a 20 percent paper savings.

If you want to get more sophisticated with your printing, and if you have a PC, check out FinePrint, an application that makes it easier to save paper by printing things the way you want them printed.

And if you want to get really proactive, visit Change The Margins, where you can add your name to a petition to get Microsoft to shrink the default margins on Word.

Kill your junk mail According to, the average American receives – you guessed it – 41 pounds of junk mail each year. For $41 this organization will eliminate 80 to 90 percent of your unwanted bulk mail. A similar group is GreenDimes, which can reduce your junk mail for free.

Sign up for electronic billing Writing a check to your internet service provider is so 18th century. These days, most major telecoms, internet service providers, credit card companies and so on will let you pay online.

Stop getting a phone book If you have a computer with Internet access at home, the only time you need the Yellow Pages is to find someone to fix your computer or your Internet connection. If you want to save an average of 3.62 pounds of paper each year, write down the numbers for your local computer repair shop and your ISP, and then sign up to stop getting phone books delivered to your door.

Looking ahead

Developed at MIT's media lab, E Ink technology allows for portable e-book readers, such as Amazon's Kindle, to display high-resolution text and graphics without drawing power to maintain the display.

The Xerox Research Center has developed a kind of paper coated a special chemical that turns dark when exposed to ultraviolet light and disappears when exposed to heat. By installing UV LEDs into standard printers and photocopiers, you could make most of your office paper reuseable. See a video demonstration here.

Another option is to make paper out of something other than trees. DuraBooks, made from plastic resins and inorganic fibers, can be melted down and reused indefinitely to make other books or other plastic products. Probably the most famous example of a DuraBook is Cradle to Cradle. DuraBooks are waterproof, so you can read them in the tub.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of 5 free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.