Luxembourg has strongly backed the idea to limit plastic packaging, but when it comes to paper waste, there is so much more to be done.

When I arrived in Luxembourg, one of the first things I noticed was the heavy use of paper. I sat bemused before my commune officials as they stamped (what a collection of stamps!) various sheets of paper, which could probably be saved and accessed online.

My daily post contains more unwanted advertising than interesting mail. It goes directly into the recycling bin, sometimes via my plastic recycling if said advertising is also wrapped in plastic.

When visiting the doctor, dentist or hospital, I’m issued with an A4 invoice to pay, then post back (in a paper envelope) to CNS. They’re not alone - many more shops and services provide us with A4 invoices.

It takes about 5 litres of water to produce on A4 piece of paper. 

And then the magazines. So many industries here seem to produce a magazine, with luxuriously thick paper. What’s the readership, I sometimes wonder? What’s the cost per head?

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Paper, paper - read all about it! 

One might think that with the ease of online writing and saving documents there would be a slow-down of paper production. The reverse is true.

In the last 40 years, worldwide paper consumption has risen 400%. 

Paper has become a rather disposable, easy-to-produce, easy-to-access commodity. Therefore, its consumption, and the associated waste, is great.

In Europe, Eurostat documented that paper and cardboard accounted for 41% of waste packaging in 2016.

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They also show that it’s on the rise: paper and cardboard, +6.3% and +11.8% , from 2007 to 2016.

The energy costs of producing paper

The obvious focus on plastic waste reduction and recycling is because plastic is mostly non-biodegradable, but that doesn’t mean paper production is without its energy costs.

It actually takes twice as much energy to produce paper as it does to produce a plastic bag. 

To state the obvious - paper comes from trees. Deforestation is a big environmental problem. 14-35% of the global wood harvest (depending on what source you read) is used to make paper. These plantations are designed to overproduce limited species of tree, specifically encouraging monocultures, which limits diversity by design and therefore our ecology.

When paper rots, it emits methane gas which is 20 times more potent as a greenhouse gas. Paper and pulp also pollute due to various production processes: they are the third largest industrial polluter of air, water and soil.

Globally, the industry is the fifth largest consumer of energy, and uses more water per ton of product than any other industry.

Making paper count

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I’m not proposing we go paperless. Anyone who knows me might know that I’m a handwriting fanatic, and (along with Steve Jobs and many others) took calligraphy classes. I would even advocate a return to occasional hand-written postcards and letters, rather than constant emails. I prefer a written diary to my online calendar. I enjoy opening up an envelope, when it’s not a bill.

But, I also keep scrap paper to re-use, and pretty wrapping paper.

Obvious easy fixes for us all: print less, save documents digitally, reuse paper, take your own cup to the work canteen, use (recycled) toilet roll minimally ;-), same for kitchen towel.

Besides these individual ways of living, what can we do to limit paper advertising here in Luxembourg, or across Europe? Should we set up a petition?

And finally, a call-out to Amazon...

More paper is actually used for packaging today than for communication.

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Sorry Amazon - we love you, but the boxes! Everyone has a story of ordering something which, when box was opened, amounted for about one fifth of the space within. I do understand that for delivery one needs to have stackable boxes, probably of the same dimensions.

But, given the amount of big brains working at Amazon, and the rate of innovation, I'm sure you can come up with a more energy efficient method of transporting products? And if you ever do start using drones for delivery, weight will play a major factor.

Let us know if you have any great paper-saving ideas or habits. 

Lisa Burke, RTL Today creator and presenter