What is Paper Use?

"Paper Use" is what happens after you acquire it and before you get rid of it. It is what happens when paper is actually useful.  For office paper, "use" is about how paper helps us manage information.

The figure below shows the major flows of office paper within an organisation:

Paper Use Diagram

Paper can be acquired by buying it, bringing it in from elsewhere, or receiving paper mail.  You put images on paper by copying something onto it, printing from a computer, receiving a fax or writing on it.

Aside from reading the content on paper or writing on it, paper can be copied, faxed, stored in an office or stored elsewhere. The physical placement of paper often helps organise information. 

We use paper for the "service" of managing and communicating information.  Copy paper is only about a tenth of all 'Printing & Writing' paper, all of which is used for information.  

Nearly all paper is eventually thrown away.  While recycling is important, it is a way to get rid of paper, and so is not part of paper use. 

Paper Use is like Energy Use

Paper can be thought of as a form of energy.  This can make it easier to grasp the power of ideas of 'paper use' and 'paper efficiency', showing how we can measure and change them.  It also links cutting paper use to reducing energy use, for which we have good public policies and programmes to address.  Paper use is also like energy use in the production energy it embodies.  As explained in our discussion of the environmental issues around paper use, a typical office worker uses the equivalent of an 80 W light bulb of electricity in office paper use, but at a cost many times the light bulb cost.

A key to viewing paper in efficiency terms (as we do energy) is to treat paper as a flow rather than as discrete objects (sheets).  As we reduce paper use, this flow drops, just as a river does when less water flows through it.  We don't track every electron or sheet of paper, but by observing the change in the overall flow, we can see the effect of a change in paper efficiency.

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