Environment, Explained: High School classes should embrace more paperless opportunities


Eden Leavey

The production and disposal of paper cause significant environmental damage. Nonetheless, across the High School, classes use a large quantity of paper, adding to the community’s carbon footprint.

Eden Leavey, Culture Editor: Print

Throughout my time in high school, I have been pleased by the community’s receptiveness to combatting the climate crisis with sustainable solutions. Yet, one facet of the school’s eco-friendly potential remains untapped: reducing paper waste.

Over the course of each year, I collect an excessive assortment of papers that overflow my binders and flood my backpack. From the mound of World Civ printouts to the cluster of unopened textbooks that collect dust on my bookshelf, classes utilize an inordinate amount of paper, most of which does not fulfill its educational value.

In my Science 10 course, for example, students receive a printed lesson guide every class that they then glue into their science notebooks. We are required to paste handouts onto empty notebook pages, thereby rendering the notebook wasteful for every student in Science 10. Such a disregard for the environmental impacts of using paper is both unacceptable and incredibly ironic, seeing as we are currently learning about greenhouse gas emissions and sustainability in the course.

However, Science Teacher Alpha Toothman said students have pointed out the quantity of paper waste in the course and the Science 10 teachers are hoping to be receptive by implementing pre-made science booklets for each unit next year to eliminate the waste of unused notebooks.

The production of paper is an unsustainable process that poses a huge threat to the environment. First and foremost, many papermaking ecosystems experience deforestation and environmental degradation as a result. In spite of this, 300 million tons of paper are produced every year.

Furthermore, papermaking also requires vast amounts of resources, namely water. In fact, 10 liters of water are needed to produce one single sheet of A4 paper. Now, imagine how much water a notebook or textbook necessitates.

The production of paper is an unsustainable process that poses a huge threat to the environment.”

The detriment of paper use is exacerbated further by the fact that approximately 1 billion trees worth of paper are thrown away in the U.S. annually. As such, paper accounts for 25% of landfill waste and 33% of general waste. This also induces ecological decline — when paper rots, it emits methane, a greenhouse gas that is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Furthermore, while the usage of digital devices does release small amounts of carbon dioxide, it is approximated that one would need to take over seven hours of notes on an iPad before surpassing the greenhouse gas emissions of a single piece of paper.

In addition to the given environmental benefits of reducing one’s paper consumption, there are a variety of advantages to using technology in classes. Not only will documents become easier to organize and access, the cost of paper, printers and ink will be reduced.

Infographic by Eden Leavey

On the other hand, some students may prefer the act of physically writing as opposed to typing to help them process material better. However, someone who often chooses to write notes by hand could try using a tablet and stylus to experience a similar hand-written feeling. There are also sustainable stationery companies that produce recycled or toxins-free paper from which one could purchase more eco-friendly notebooks.

Although recycled paper tends to be more expensive than new paper due to its more complex production process, digital note-taking is made possible with the High School’s financial aid program that ensures equal access to laptops.

Moreover, teachers should endeavor to use E-books and online PDFs instead of textbooks and printouts when possible. Students who truly prefer a physical copy can print one themselves, but there is no need for everyone to be given a handout when so many go to waste.

As we progress through the digital age, limiting our paper consumption is at our fingertips. Hopefully, the High School will soon take advantage of this environmental opportunity to ultimately reduce its paper waste.