I must admit I have a little bit of a stationery fetish. I love the look and feel of crisp, white, blank paper just waiting to be illustrated, embossed or splashed with bright colours, or written on with words that inspire joy and love, that guide and teach, or provoke passionate discussion and debate. I can wander through an office supplies store for hours and be deliriously happy without buying anything. But being environmentally conscious means that I must consider the environmental impact of my choices. So how can we ensure our use of stationery is minimal, green and sustainable?
Our ‘Embrace Simplicity’ challenges always start with reducing our consumption, using less, learning to ‘be’ rather than ‘do’, and finding joy, happiness and satisfaction not in material objects, but in life’s non-tangibles. Greening our impact is only part of the solution. We must reduce our consumption, and ensure our use of natural resources is sustainable, so we can continue to live creative and fulfilled lives on this beautiful Earth.
The first step is to ask ourselves how many items or services do we really need to use to achieve what we want in our creative and business endeavours? Are there areas we can re-define so that we use less, or can we reduce our use of certain items entirely?
Each of us will approach this exercise differently, but it’s important to remember our behaviour does impact other people, and the wonderful, incredible forms of life (plants, animals, rivers, the ocean, the sky, the land) that share the Earth. As Environmental Warriors, it is our responsibility to significantly reduce our impact.
There are excellent alternative options available if we are willing to do the research and make a commitment to implementing them into our lives. Here are some suggestions for reducing our use of stationery products, choosing greener options, and reducing our environmental impact. I’ve included predominantly Australian products and businesses.
I love Tudor Eco products and their Australian-animal-themed exercise books celebrating our unique native fauna:
Their recycled range of products includes:
*Envelopes made from 100% recycled, unbleached paper
*Dividers and storage files made from 100% recycled board
*Office pads made from 100% recycled, unbleached paper
*Exercise and binder books made from 60% recycled paper and 100% recycled board
I prefer exercise and binder books bound without a ‘spiral’, but if you do purchase these, ensure the book is bound with steel, not plastic. Always think steel over plastic, as steel will biodegrade in about a year, and plastic won’t, ever. If you use paper clips, choose ones made of steel, not plastic. If you buy plastic items, always choose recycled plastic if possible. Use a metal pencil sharpener over a plastic one.
Disposable plastic ballpoint pens (biros) are a landfill nightmare. Can you imagine the millions of biros sitting in landfill that will still be there long after you and I are gone? I’m currently searching for a refillable ballpoint or fountain pen (preferably one made from recycled materials). You can buy pens made from recycled plastic, but bear in mind these may have limited, if any, capacity for further recycling, and will still eventually end up in landfill. Pilot make refillable ballpoint and gel pens from minimum 70% recycled bottles under their BeGreeN initiative.
Pencils, though the core is commonly referred to as ‘lead’, are not made of the toxic metal lead, but from a mixture of non-toxic graphite and clay powder. The inner lead lies within a cylinder of wood fibre, so trees must still be cut down, and the Earth mined for raw materials. Choose pencils made of wood sourced from PEFC-certified, sustainably managed forests, like Staedtler traditional pencils.
As an artist, I prefer a traditional or graphite pencil for drawing and sketching, but for general writing, the alternative is a mechanical pencil (preferably made from recycled materials) with refillable leads. The Eco Mechanical pencil is made from recycled paper but has plastic fittings. Some brands of refill lead and plastic erasers contain PVC. Staedtler make PVC-free lead refills and plastic erasers.
I no longer use coloured highlighting pens, because I don’t like the amount of plastic used in a product with a very short lifespan. One way to get around this is to generate a PDF document and highlight it on the computer. If you do a lot of research, many academic papers and journals are now found online. The basic Adobe PDF function can be downloaded free and allows you to highlight passages in online documents and enter comments and notes, so there’s no need to print the document either.
If you choose to use highlighter pens, purchase a refillable one made from recycled materials. Artline make a refillable highlighter (the 603 CLIX) made with water-based pigment ink. Artline Eco-Green whiteboard markers are made from 78% recycled material, are refillable and offer replacement nibs. However, their MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) clearly states they contain hazardous chemicals.
BuyEcoGreen is an online shop selling ‘green’ office, school and art supplies. I had a quick look through their website and their range is extensive. They estimate and offset the carbon emissions produced in the manufacture, transport, use and disposal of their products, which need to satisfy at least two of their environmental criteria – recycled, biodegradable, sustainable, organic, reusable, or have reduced environmental impact.
Marbig produce an Enviro range, and Bioplus Copysafe biodegradable sheet protectors containing an additive, allowing them to biodegrade naturally (preferably don’t dispose of them in the first place).
Jiffy padded bags contain protective padding made from 100% recycled newspaper and are 100% recyclable.
Earthcare insert binders are made from 70% recycled content, are 100% recyclable, are 70% biodegradable and contain no volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
The Bantex Ecoboard range includes the following products:
*A two-hole punch made from recycled plastic that is 100% recyclable
*Unbleached Kraft A4 dividers made from recycled material that is 100% recyclable
*Unbleached Kraft lever arch files made from recycled material that are 100% recyclable
*A stapler made from recycled plastic in recycled packaging
Use copy paper made from recycled paper and not sourced from virgin, native, old-growth forest. Forego the home printers that use small cartridges which often cannot be refilled or recycled. Businesses can opt for refillable cartridge services or do your printing at a commercial printing service.
Certification systems and forestry standards
Paper and its related products are a major driver of global deforestation. It’s difficult to accurately quantify exactly how many trees are cut down every year, but it’s clear we’re cutting down trees at an alarming rate – some reports say 60,000 square kilometres annually. The world’s forests are managed by entities that apply rigorous standards in responsible, sustainable forestry. Paper products are labelled appropriately by certification systems in Australia and overseas, including PEFC, FSC and AFS.
The environmental impact of printing inks
Printing inks contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), potentially toxic heavy metals and non-renewable petroleum oils. Use of heavy metals in ink is regulated, but we don’t know the cumulative effect of these substances over time, on humans, on animals, or in the air, water and soil. When these chemicals enter the environment, they pollute the rivers and oceans, and may kill fish and wildlife. Bleaching paper releases chlorinated organic compounds into the environment, particularly dioxins, recognized as a toxic environmental pollutant. Choose unbleached paper when possible.
Corporate sustainability initiatives
Many companies have implemented initiatives into their operational planning strategies to reduce, green and offset the environmental impact of their products. These companies honour their corporate responsibility to the environment.
Staedtler’s Efficient for Ecology environmental protection program forms part of their environmental philosophy. Their products need to fulfil ecological criteria at the design and development stages, raw materials and energy must be used efficiently, and waste and carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced and recycled. Products are designed to be of high quality and to last longer than similar products. Transparency in customer interactions is an important principle.
The Pilot BeGreeN initiative aims to produce writing tools made from recycled industrial waste material. Their manufacturing process uses a closed loop system to recycle further waste back into the system. Their products retail for equal to or less than non-recycled items.
TerraCycle has a Zero Waste Box to recycle pens, mechanical pencils, markers, highlighters, permanent markers and caps. Waste is separated into metals, fibres and plastics to be made into new recycled products.
Creating a sustainable office environment involves assessing our individual situation, whether we’re an individual or a business, and making choices and changes that significantly reduce our impact on the environment. Think stationery that’s simple, minimal, and uses sustainable and renewable materials.