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Why I (Still) Use Paper

Posted by Naomi Schoenfeld on

Recently, I was part of an conversation with a group of fellow Etsy sellers, who were saying that they no longer include an invoice with orders for environmental reasons -- it saves paper, and after all, the purchaser can always access the information online.

Sounds good, doesn't it? Go green.

The problem is, we've all pretty much swallowed this saving paper = going green concept without much critical thought. And often, we're just making the problem worse. Replacing single sheets of paper with internet-only information is one of those nonsensical ways we make ourselves feel like we're making a difference in the world -- when realistically, we may be doing more harm to the earth than we ever did with paper.

My crafting and life are deeply immersed in, and guided by, environmental considerations. Which is why I choose to send a paper invoice with my orders, every time.

  • Is /decreasing/ paper use a good environmental idea? Yes.
  • Is /replacing/ paper use with electronic access a good environmental idea? Not necessarily.

Let's compare.

All paper needs in order to be 'green' is a sustainably harvested pulp source, and to be manufactured with sensible processes and controls. Once created it has no further environmental impact -- it is stable, and the information on it accessible long-term with no additional energy needed. AND it's both recyclable and biodegradable.

Computers, on the other hand, are causing HUGE environmental damage, that is increasing all the time. Not only is there the environmental impact of the computer manufacturing process itself, with its plastics, metals, rare metals, non-biodegradable and non-recyclable components, but even once that laptop has been carted across the world to your doorstep (yet more energy expended), it isn't done yet. It takes ongoing energy - electricity, with its own carbon footprint, needed anew every single time the information is accessed online.

And then there's the network -- an international structure and network of servers, electric lines and data lines, all with their own broad-reaching and ever-growing carbon footprints, pollution, and habitat destruction.

Excessive use of paper is a problem. But NO amount of printed receipts has ever created this -- www.bbc.com/future/story/20150402-the-worst-place-on-earth -- or the hundreds of other dump sites worldwide that our increasing reliance on electronics has created.

Every single time you cheerfully say 'they can look it up online', you're not eliminating carbon use. You're requiring the other person to access perfectly simple information using the entire environment-changing behemoth of online technology instead of a single (or half) slip of a renewable resource.

The time you spend online is not environmentally neutral. Every second that ticks by comes with an environmental price tag -- one that can easily exceed the minor paper usage it was meant to eliminate.

So. I'm totally fine with people choosing to save money by omitting an invoice, or emailing a receipt. Saving money is good.

But PLEASE think twice before applying the much overused 'it's for the environment' cliche. Check and double-check whether the replacement you're pulling in, is worse than the original.

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