The book project, as it turned out, was due Tuesday, not Friday.
This might have caused panic, except that knowing my son is a procrastinator I made him start organizing and writing a week early. He likes to read so much that he insisted on rereading his book — all 534 pages of it — before starting on his list of questions. And since I understand the love of rereading a favorite book, I didn’t press him to get writing too early.
So there was only a small taste of panic, on Monday night, when the boy was ready to print out his project. “Auuggh! The printer won’t work!” he yelled, but then it did work. “Auuggh! I need paper!”
And that was no problem, because paper we have in plenty. I work at a newspaper, and page dummies come up to the newsroom on 81⁄2-by-11 sheets of paper that pile up on all of our desks alarmingly fast. I’ve been bringing it home for the past 20 years. Scrap paper? No, it’s the real thing.
The paper is printed with newspaper grids, showing columns and ad stacks. But the other side is blank and therefore prime drawing paper. Most of the kids’ artwork over the years has been done on the dummies, and since my son started using a computer and printer, he discovered the paper, which has already been run once through a computer printer, has no trouble running through again. He’s used it for making comic books, for school work, for origami, for making cards and writing letters, for a sketchbook and for his computer art projects.
And so Monday night he ran downstairs, pulled out some dummies from a folder on the bookshelf, ran back upstairs and printed out his project.
Recycling paper is good. Reusing it first is even better.
The World Wildlife Fund estimates that worldwide we use 1 million tons of paper a day. And they estimate that most offices could reduce paper use by 20 percent by making simple changes, such as printing on both sides of a sheet of paper and eliminating unnecessary printing.
Our office is paper heavy. And a lot of us have stacks or folders of paper to reuse on our desks — for taking notes or writing messages. When my folder gets too full, paper comes home. When kids come into our office, they are generally given a stack of paper to draw on. We have recycling bins all over, for newspaper and office paper, but a lot still ends up in the trash.
Most paper is made from wood pulp, and trees are a renewable resource. But reducing use and recycling the paper we already use can save forests, wildlife habitat and drastically reduce the energy and water it takes to make paper.
“In some regions, the expanding production and harvesting of pulp wood threatens the last remaining natural forests, their precious fauna and flora, and the people that depend on them,” the WWF says in its paper-buying guide. “The processing of pulp and paper also consumes vast amounts of energy and releases a wide range of polluting compounds into the environment.”
Our region is a paper-making region. The first wood-to-pulp mill in the country was in Lake Luzerne, and the place is a museum today. If you’ve ever toured a paper mill you know what a fascinating operation it is — from tree to log to a soupy slurry of pulp and water, which is then spread, dried and pressed into vast rolls of paper. It’s amazing to see.
WWF says that 40 percent of harvested wood goes to paper production. And there are all kinds of ways to harvest wood. There are forest plantations, well managed, responsibly harvested and replanted. And there are virgin forests that are clear-cut — legally and illegally — resulting in erosion, loss of wildlife habitat and the degradation of streams and rivers.
Making paper uses an incredible amount of water, and some mills release heated water back into the rivers they are situated on, impacting fish and water plants. Chlorine bleaches used for turning the brown pulp into white paper result in dioxins — a carcinogen — being released into water. Many mills now use ultraviolet light or oxygen compounds to whiten paper, a safer alternative. But many do not.
And while the paper industry has been getting cleaner, there are still plenty of mills releasing far too much carbon dioxide and sulphur dioxide into the air, and nitrogen and chlorinated compounds into the water. Cutting trees, trucking pulp wood, making pulp and trucking finished paper also adds to the carbon footprint of paper.
If you are buying paper — especially if you are the buyer for your office or business — you can look for safer alternatives such as chlorine-free paper. The two major kinds are “totally chlorine-free” (TCF), which is virgin paper produced without chlorine, and “processed chlorine-free” (PCF), which is made from a combination of recycled paper and TCF pulp.
Buying recycled paper helps, both by reducing the need for virgin lumber and by encouraging recycling by creating an end market for recycled goods. Recycling in your own home and office is also key.
But the easiest thing we can do is simply use less paper. Reuse the paper that lands on your desk, writing on the backs or cutting it into memo sheets. Avoid printing out emails, or using a whole sheet of paper to print a few lines of type. Bring a cloth napkin in your lunch box, reuse envelopes, paper bags and cardboard boxes. Save the fronts of your birthday and Christmas cards to make gift labels. Run paper through your copier or computer printer twice.
And, of course, recycle your newspaper when you’re done reading it.
Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.
Have a question or a topic you’d like addressed on Greenpoint? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.