How to reduce your paper waste and to get rid of that paper clutter

Thank you @imagos for letting me use this expressive photo of yours! Go follow him on Instagram, he captures great street scenes 😁! © imagos

When we talk about reducing our waste and our footprint, we tend to focus on plastic, and for a very good reason too! Plastic is destructive in so many ways. However, because we focus so much on plastic, we tend to turn a blind eye on paper! People keep asking me: “What’s so bad about paper?” And my answer usually is: “Paper, too, needs to be produced, which consumes energy and other resources. Did you know that one bucket of water is needed to produce just one sheet of paper? Of course there’s a place for paper, but if I can avoid it, I will.”

Well, good news 😜! I have some tips for you on how to reduce your paper waste! And even better news – reducing your paper waste will automatically help you in your fight against the paper clutter that tends to creep up on all of us. You know, these piles of paper that somehow become part of the interior after a while, the bills you might have not paid because, right, where the heck were they…?

1. Get rid of that junk mail


Put a sticker on your mailbox refusing junk mail – “No junk mail, no free newspapers, no advertising”! It’s so darn simple and yet it might be the most effective tool there is to reduce your paper waste!

A photo posted by @fabsternation on

However, junk mail, catalogues or coupons specifically addressed to you will still spam your mailbox. Cancel the memberships you do not need, call or send them an email asking to be removed. If you still receive a lot of junk mail, you can even hire websites (e.g. 41pounds.org or stopthejunkmail.com) to get you removed from these mailing lists. If your insurance company, your phone provider and the likes send you too many pamphlets or their customer magazines, you can also email them and ask them to not send you any in the future.

2. Switch to paperless billing and online banking

Almost every company now offers digital or paperless billing. It saves them money, and they are usually glad to change it for you.

Same goes for banks. If you haven’t already, get your online banking account up and running! Download your bank statements, transfer money online – and some banks will even send you all of the mail they would usually send through a post office to your online banking account! They will send you an email informing you that you have mail waiting for you to read in your online banking account.

3. Read (or watch) news online, or subscribe to the digital version of your local paper

I know a lot of people who tell me they like the “feel” of the newspaper in their hands. Personally, I don’t. Simply because it gets my hands dirty and I start to wonder about the chemicals in the ink now being on my fingertips. Besides, I have really dry and sensitive skin, and tend to break out easily. Touching the rather low-quality paper newspapers are usually printed on irritates my skin.

If you do belong to the people who like to read your newspaper printed on paper – try to keep an open mind about reading the digital version of your local paper. Almost every newspaper has an app that gives you access to the digital version if you are a subscriber. If you feel you really cannot tolerate reading on a tablet or on your computer, read the paper at the library or share a subscription with a neighbor.

Just look at this and try to imagine the amount of newspapers printed and then discarded EVERY DAY worldwide!

Just look at this and try to imagine the amount of newspapers printed and then discarded EVERY DAY worldwide! You know what they say – nothing is older than yesterday’s newspaper… © imagos

I like reading my news online on the go. I used to have some newspaper subscriptions, but I never had the time to read the entire paper, and seeing how fast the old newspapers were piling up I felt that I was simply wasting resources. And look at that pile of newspapers in the featured photo – they are even wrapped in plastic! Just imagine how much paper that is every day!

4. Read magazines online

The same goes for magazines. Some magazines offer a digital subscription and have apps supporting a pleasant reading experience. There is also an app called readly. It’s similar to Spotify or Netflix. You pay a monthly fee for the access to thousands of magazines worldwide, not for a specific subscription.

5. Use your local library or buy ebooks

I know some people might want to stone me for saying this – but books are quite the source of pollution too! A lot of books are bought and only read once (or never!), which makes it a single-use item! Just recently I got told by someone working in the publishing industry that it is an open secret in the industry that books are printed on the SHIP while they are officially “being shipped” to their destination, so that they can just release whatever waste into the ocean and don’t have to dispose it “the proper way”.

Reading online in bed

Instead of buying a new book, check if your local library has it! If you want to buy the book to support the author – which is great – buy the ebook version! You can now read ebooks on every tablet and even on every smartphone! Believe it or not, I actually prefer reading ebooks on my smartphone! Magazines and newpapers are a bit hard to read on the small screen, but perfect on the tablet.

Or consider buying a pre-owned ebook reader. I know some book-crazed people (I have recently joined my very first book club, yay ❤️) with Kindle readers and they love it!

If you local library does not have the book you are looking for AND there is no ebook version, consider buying the book secondhand and gifting or selling it so somebody else to read after you are done with it.

6. Eliminate the nasty paper piles with the “one touch” method (that’s how we call it)

Now that you minimized the amount of paper entering your home, you will find that there is a lot less paper cluttering your home, and hence, a lot less paper you will have to deal with! The little paper that does manages to sneak into your home is most probably well worth your attention.

So, onto tackling that paper work so it doesn’t pile up!

We used to open our mail, read it, and put it away to deal with it later. Of course the paper piled up! We ended up with stacks of paper – one right at the entrance, another one in the living room, and some would make it into the inbox system I had once installed when we moved into the apartment. We forgot to pay bills until we found a reminder in our mailbox.

Then we implemented the “one touch” policy for paper work at our home after I spent one entire week sorting our paper piles. (And another three weeks going through our filing system in order to digitalize everything for our new paperless life…)

We now open the mail and either

  • make a note in the calendar or planner and trash* it (e.g. invitations, FYIs)
  • scan it and trash* it (e.g. personal cards & letters, letters from providers)
  • scan it and file it (e.g. things you really need to keep for tax reasons)

* I don’t “trash” it directly. I reuse the back of envelopes and letters to write down some quick notes and then recycle it.

So this is how I collect envelopes and letters that can still be written on

So this is how I collect envelopes and letters that can still be written on

We have our file structure for these kinds of documents set up in a shared Dropbox folder. We use an app on our smartphones to scan the documents and just put the scanned document into the Dropbox folder using the Dropbox app. Voilà, it’s where it belongs in maybe a minute or two 👍.

Oh, and even though your bills now aren’t delivered by the post office – you should still pay them immediately, now that you’ve got your online banking account up and running 😉.

7. Only keep what you have to keep (e.g. for tax reasons) or what you think you will want to keep for the rest of your life

Postcards, christmas cards, letters, wedding invites… Well, to be honest, we read them –  and trash them immediately. I used to keep those things in a box, then another box, then yet another box. At some point I had too many to enjoy going through them. And then I trashed them – after having moved them from apartment to apartment.

Some of these things I do take a photo of before I trash it though. Some nice cards we might display for a while, but ultimately, they will all end up in the bin. It’s a shame that most nice cards are not recyclable, since they use too many materials and it is pretty much impossible to separate them.

So ask yourself: Is it something I will wish to still have 25 or 30 years from now? If so, by all means, keep it! However, if it’s something you don’t plan on keeping for the rest of your life, it just means you will toss it at some point. So you might as well do it now. This way it won’t add to the clutter in your home, and you will not have to organize, store, and take care of it in any other way.

8. Tell family and friends about your lifestyle and ask them to not send you any cards

So to avoid having to throw out all these nice cards and letters, we have explained our lifestyle to our family and friends and have asked them to not send us any cards at all! They now send us photos instead of cards, which I find a lot more personal, since you actually get to see THEM and not some stock photo image on a card, and usually they have some funny stories to tell you about the situation they took the photo in! And letters? Seriously, who writes letters anymore 😜?? Just text me 😜!

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9 Comments

  1. I think the last one can be a tough one for many people! Certain family members are not supportive of my lifestyle, so I don’t know if they’d support that. Of course it is worth a try. Paper piles are annoying!

    I also talked to a family member about their use of paper towel (it’s still paper…); they were telling me it uses less water to use paper towel and just throw away than it is to wash a reusable rag. I did some research (because my words weren’t getting through) and found some neat videos on how paper towel is made… and just HOW MUCH fresh water it uses just to produce! Turns out… if more people would switch to reusable rags instead of paper towel, we’d actually be saving water.

    Important post, even if it’s ‘not about plastic’ 😉

    • Yeah, it was very difficult with our families too… It took quite a while for them to understand that it wasn’t just some crazy “phase” but a lifestyle choice!
      And I totally feel you with the paper towels!! If you happen to have the link to the article, I’d love to read it and to link to it :). Why would you even want to use paper towels in your own home :'(…?
      Our families don’t use paper towels, but my in-laws are really wasteful when it comes to food :(. They throw away perfectly good food after each meal just because “they think they probably won’t eat it”. Well, just EAT IT! Eating out with them is even worse… They eat very little so sometimes they have hardly touched their plates. We take back home what we can (even though we are vegan and what they order is not), but they feel it’s embarrassing whenever we get out our containers in a restaurant (we do ask the staff if it’s OK beforehand!). Last time we had both of our stainless steel lunch boxes on us but we still couldn’t fit everything in there!! So wasteful :'(!

  2. Yes, i do all that and I print on the other side of used papers. I told my family not to send me cards this year but I still got 3 of them. Maybe next year it will be better 🙂

    • That’s actually not too bad! It takes time for family and friends to adjust too, they’ll come around ;). It’s so cool that you already do all of it! I don’t know why, but I do get attacked whenever I mention that newspapers and books do add to the pollution, and that buying a book and only reading it once is treating it like a single-use item. Very often people tell me that “I went too far”. Someone has even called me an “extremist” for that! And they just assume I’m against literature, reading, or being informed. That’s so ridiculous! I’m only for using another medium that is more sustainable :D. Oh well XD. Keep up the good work ^^!

  3. These are great tips! Junk mail is something I will definitely try to get rid of. I already use online banking and reading online basically everything. The only problem is that I am a book buyer… I love the smell of the new books and the feeling of holding them in bed or in the couch next to the window. I many times had the thought to just go and donate all of them to the library but I somehow feel very attached to them. Thanks for the lovely ideas!

    • Yeah, junk mail can be so annoying! If you are a book lover u can still go for 2nd hand books or use the library :). And u don’t have to have to go for all or nothing. Buy books you know you will read multiple times, and try to get them pre-owned. Depending on where you live there might be lovely secondhand book stores. And if you know it is a book you will only read once – get it in your local library. Or swap with friends :).

  4. Great tips!
    What I am still struggling a lot with is paper, I use for school. As I am at hight school, I do not only receive a lot of copies and worksheets but also produce a lot of paper waste taking notes. I am a person who really takes a lot of notes and uses a lot of learning material because I can study well visualizing and drawing things (e.g. mind maps) I already reduced this waste a little by quiting learning with card boxes, but it is still a lot.
    can you give me any advice or maybe write about avoiding waste at school?

    • Oh, school is a tough one. On the German version of this blog I had an acquaintance write about how to reduce some waste when you are in school or college. I didn’t translate it to English though, since it was a lot about stationary, and I wasn’t sure whether or not you could get those elsewhere. You could try to read the article with Google translate. But remember the 5 R’s – what you cannot refuse (like in school) you can try to reduce (like using less paper to take notes by writing smaller) or reuse (like using both sides, taking notes on the backside of worksheets or ask around for paper that has been printed on on one side). You can also look for a more eco-friendly alternative to things you need: recycled paper, a wooden pencil, binders without plastic covers, and so on.

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