reducing waste in the paperless society

On the way back to my office after mailing off my passport renewal forms (w00t!), I passed by a display in the Campus Forum. There were long tables set up on a tarp, with a row of 50 gal. plastic bins behind them, marked with different kinds of recyclable materials. Next to the tables and bins were about 10 full trash bags, presumably collected from around campus, and there appeared to be a truck with possibly more bags located nearby. Three men stood at the tables in biohazard suits and gloves, and wearing protective goggles. They were carefully sorting through open trash bags, checking the numbers on plastic containers, and sorting the contents into the appropriate recyclable or trash bins.

When I arrived here, I was surprised by how recycling-friendly this campus is as compared to others where I have worked or studied. Even in the eco-conscious Pacific Northwest, I did not see as many recycling bins in buildings (or at least the library) as I do here, nor have I heard any other head of waste management on a campus speak as passionately about reducing the level of waste.

I try to recycle as much as I can and throw away as little as I can, but unfortunately, I’m addicted to some things that come individually wrapped, which ends up creating a lot more waste than if I bought in bulk or chose items with less packaging. Still, including cat litter, I end up filling only one kitchen trash bag every 7-10 days, which is not too shabby for a single person.

Even so, as I scan the contents of the top of my office desk, I see a lot of paper from printouts that I could have kept in digital form. Several items are things that need to be converted to hard copies (license agreements needing signatures and whatnot), but many are simply for my information and will eventually end up in the recycle bin.

Last week, we talked about our “paperless society” in the Library Tech Team meeting. One of the things we tossed around was the idea of purchasing a bunch of small laptops of the EEE PC variety for library staff to use in meetings or other places where they need to bring documents or take notes, instead of having a bunch of printouts. I don’t know if that would fly very well. Personally, I wouldn’t want to have to keep track of which machine (desktop or laptop) holds the document I need.

However, my work desktop is a laptop that stays docked most of the time, unless I’m needing to work elsewhere, like at a conference. I’m not using it to the fullest for mobile computing because, honestly, it’s annoying to have to organize the screen space again when I return it to the dock and am now using a 24″ monitor rather than the built-in 15″ laptop screen. That’s a lame excuse.

For the month of November, I’ve committed myself to bringing only my laptop to meetings. No more papers, no more clutter to file in manila folders and then forget about. And, as an added bonus, I don’t have to spend extra time deciphering my handwriting.