Take one look around my home and it’s easy to see that I love to read. My bookcase is overflowing with dog-eared paperbacks and hardcovers. There are even more books stuffed into drawers, sitting on my coffee table, and jammed into the shelves of my computer desk. About a half dozen cookbooks are precariously stacked on top of my microwave. Magazines fill a basket and litter the dining room table. Add to all of this a stack of catalogs, junk mail, and bills, and everything starts to get a little messy.
About 85 million tons of paper are used in the U.S. each year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. More than 2 billion books are published, along with 350 million magazines and 24 billion newspapers. The amount of paper and wood products the average American uses each year is equal to one 100-foot Douglas fir tree. Over 30 percent of the municipal solid waste stream (MSW) is made up of paper and paperboard products, making it the largest source of waste in the country.
But, the good news is that paper accounts for more than a third of all recycling done, by weight, in the United States. Nearly 44 million tons of paper and paperboard were recovered in 2006, according to the EPA, and 33 percent of the materials used to make everything from hospital gowns, to coffee filters, to egg cartons are now from recycled sources. And that is having a positive effect on the environment. Recycling just one ton of paper can reduce greenhouse gases by one metric ton, save 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space, save 7,000 gallons of water, and save enough energy to power an average-sized home for six months.
With all of this in mind, I searched the internet and found five websites that can help anyone reduce their paper footprint with a minimum of fuss. And, while you’re at it, you might just put a few extra bucks in your pocket!
If you’re like me, and your city currently doesn’t have curbside recycling, the first step in your effort to reduce your paper footprint might be to find a nearby recycling center. Founded in 1991 as a recycling hotline, Earth911 has grown over the years into the web’s go-to-guide for all things recycling. According to the site, their database has over 100,000 recycling locations across the country provided by local governments, industry insiders, organizations, and everyday consumers. The site also has environmental news articles, feature articles, and a searchable database of nationwide recycling events.
Earth911 is easy to use. Just type in your zip code and what it is you want to recycle and the site provides a list of recycling centers in your area. Each listing has a handy chart of exactly what materials the site accepts and whether you can drop them off or have them picked up. Special instructions are also listed Ancol4d. Many sites, for example, ask that you put shredded paper into a plastic bag before dropping it off.
For those wanting to increase their green savvy on the go, Earth911 also now has an iPhone application. iRecycle lets users look up listings, news, articles, and events from their cell phones. It even gives directions and hours of operation. So now, you can find a place to drop off your old cell phone… on your cell phone!
If you want to put an end to all of those pesky mail-order catalogs you get in the mail for stores you don’t even remember visiting, Catalog Choice can help! A non profit corporation based in Berkeley, California, Catalog Choice is a free mail preference service that seeks to reduce the number of unwanted catalog mailings. The Green Certified site also promotes the adoption of sustainable industry practices and has collaborated with The Ecology Center, the National Wildlife Federation, and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Signing up is quick and easy and, in no time at all, you can browse the site’s database of over 1,000 retailers. Once you find a catalog you want to stop receiving, all you have to do is fill out a form with your name and address, the customer number and source number (if available), and your reason for opting-out. Once the form is submitted, Catalog Choice sends the request to the retailer and then tracks it’s status on the website. If the retailer responds, the site will update you through the Dashboard or by sending you an email. If they don’t respond, the site provides you with the retailer’s customer service phone number so you can contact them personally. Also, if the retailer doesn’t accept requests directly from Catalog Choice, the site provides you with an email template you can use to send the request yourself.
Within minutes of sending my first opt-out email, I got a response informing me that the retailer in question (Eddie Bauer) had received, and was processing, my request. Ten minutes later, another retailer responded and said they were removing me from their mailing list. A good sign! Catalog Choice warns, however, that it can take at least 12 weeks to process a request. Still, thanks to them, I was able to opt-out of half a dozen catalog mailing lists in less than a hour.
You can make a few bucks and get rid of that overflowing library of books at the same time through Cash4Books, an online used book buying service.
How it works: Enter the ISBNs of all the books you wish to sell. The website will tell you whether or not it accepts the books and what they are worth. Next, print out a shipping label from your computer, box up the books, and ship them out. Once Cash4Books receives your shipment, it will send payment. The shipping is free and payment options include either a check or Paypal. There’s a handy little tutorial video you can watch to learn how the site works as well.
Cash4Books buys a variety of books, but there’s also a variety of books that they don’t buy. Advanced reading copies, teacher’s manuals, ex-library books, and Reader’s Digest books are just a few examples of what the site doesn’t accept. They also don’t accept most books published before 2006 or audiobooks on cassette tape. According to the website, what books are bought can change day by day, or week by week, based on resale values, their current inventory, buyer demand, and other factors. They also have to be in a certain condition. Worn out bindings, page and cover tears, cigarette odor, and writing are all reasons why a book might not be accepted. Any unaccepted books can be shipped back to the seller at the seller’s expense, or they can be donated or recycled by the website.
While Cash4Books is a little picky about what it’ll buy, it’s still a fairly effortless way to reduce the amount of old books in your home and make some pocket change in the process. Plus, it gives a portion of its profits to fund classroom projects on DonorsChoose.org, so you’ll be helping more than just your wallet and the environment!
BookCrossing.com is a free online book club that allows you to share books with people from all over the world. Like catching and releasing an animal back into the wild, you can “tag” your book and track its progress as it travels from person to person.
After creating a free account on the website, you can register a book you want to “release into the wild” and will be given a BCID, or Book Crossing ID. Write the BCID in ink on the inside cover. You’re also encouraged to add Book Crossing’s info, stickers or notes to make the book more noticable. Then, pick a spot to release the book, such as a coffee shop, park bench, doctor’s office, bus stop, gym, etc. If you’re lucky, your book will be picked up by someone who will then go to the Book Crossing website and leave a journal entry about your book!
Of course, there’s no guarantee that a book you send out into the world will ever be “caught” and journaled about on the website, but sending your favorite novel off on a little adventure to hopefully find a new home, and catching your own books in return, can be a fun and creative way to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
If you can’t remember the last time you turned to a copy of the Yellow Pages to look up a phone number, you might want to give YellowPagesGoesGreen.org a try. Comparing itself to the National No-Call Registry, the website aims to reduce the number of usolicited Yellow and White Pages books that are delivered every year. According to the site, over 500 million directories are produced a year and generate enormous amounts of waste. It takes 1.6 billion pounds of paper and 7.2 million barrels of oil to print that many books, which then take up around 268,000 cubic yards of landfill space when they are thrown out.
Signing up to have your name removed from the Telephone Directory mailing list takes less than a minute. All that is required is your name, address, and an email confirmation. YellowPagesGoesGreen.org says, though, that while they will contact the publisher on behalf of the person who wishes to opt-out, it’s ultimately the responsibility of the publisher to act in accordance to consumer demands. So, even if you sign up, you may get the books anyway. But, if you do, hopefully you’ll recycle them!