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Reusing paper

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Origami crane.
Photo: Terri Oda

Give your old wood furniture to charitable organizations.

Maybe you can’t refinish your old furniture to give it a new lease on life, or maybe you’re just sick of seeing it. Whatever the reason, don’t throw it out! You’ll just be adding more garbage to the dump and producing more greenhouse gases. Most furniture made of wood releases carbon dioxide when it is destroyed. Many of the other materials used in furniture making are toxic, and can give off different pollutants when they are disposed of. Giving old furniture to non-profit organizations helps them raise money for their causes. Better yet, they’ll find new owners for the furniture, and extend its useful lifetime.

Buy recycled, unbleached post-consumer paper.

Read labels carefully when buying writing paper, toilet paper and tissue paper. Recycled post-consumer paper is made only from fibre from paper that has already been used by consumers. Generally speaking, mills have to buy your recycling, to obtain the raw materials for this kind of paper. Making one tonne of recycled post-consumer paper saves 17 trees. “Recycled paper” on the label means that no new trees were cut down to make this product. The ingredients in recycled paper vary, and may include post-consumer paper, wood scraps or parts of trees less valuable for making paper the traditional way.

Another thing you should check when buying paper is how it was bleached. Ideally, it’s best to use unbleached paper, but it is becoming harder to find. Of all bleaching processes, chlorine is the most harmful for the environment. So look for labels that say “chlorine-free.”

Use cloth table napkins, and rags for wiping up spills.

It takes an enormous amount of energy, trees, water and polluting chemicals to make paper. Although it would be hard to do without some paper products, it’s easy to replace paper napkins and towels with cloth equivalents. If you use cloth whenever possible, you’ll help reduce overall waste and protect the environment.

Wrap gifts in reusable bags, newsprint or fabric.

Be creative when wrapping gifts! Traditional wrapping produces tonnes of waste during the holidays and throughout the year, and is rarely recycled even when it is recyclable. Metallic wrapping paper, sequins and many plastic containers are not recyclable. So why not wrap your gifts in reused wrapping paper, magazine pages, posters, newsprint or home-made gift bags? Use solvent-free glue and adhesive tape made from recycled paper to fashion your masterpieces. Then it will be easier to recycle the paper, if it can’t be reused again. Your style will surely be a hit, and the Earth will thank you!

Refuse packaging. When you have no choice, reusable and recyclable packaging is best.

Your first reflex should be to choose products with the least amount of packaging or none at all. If the products you want are over-packaged, ask the store owner to do something about it, or leave the excess packaging at the store when you buy the product. Cardboard shoeboxes, for instance, will pile up near the counter and make the point visibly and quickly.

A question of terminology: “Reusing” and “giving new life” to a product are not the same thing. According to recycling experts, it must be possible to use an item for the same purpose at least three times before it is considered reusable. Returnable containers, like beer bottles, and cloth shopping bags are good examples of reusable packaging. Otherwise, it is a matter of converting a product, for instance by making a bulletin board out of wine bottle corks – you are converting them into something else, not reusing them.

At home and work, reuse paper that has already been printed on.

Paper that has already been printed on can be reused for writing, taking notes or drawing on the other side, or even crafting and handiwork.

  • Bring used printed sheets home instead of buying notepads or drawing tablets.
  • Use recycled post-consumer paper to print your documents.

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