You open your mailbox and hope you get something good. Instead, it’s a pile of junk mail. Why companies keep adding you to their mailing lists and ignoring “Return to Sender” requests is anybody’s guess. But there’s a better way to utilize all that extra paper from unsolicited junk mail and even solicited packages that went way overboard on the packaging needs. Both options are the gift that keeps on giving — literally.
According to the University of Southern Indiana, the amount of discarded wood and paper within a year’s time can heat 50 million homes for 20 years. Approximately 1 billion trees worth of paper are thrown away each year in the U.S., and Americans use 85 million tons of paper annually (about 680 pounds per person). It probably wouldn’t be so bad if it was actually needed. But for far too often, we cannot figure out what to do with paper once its initial use is no longer an option.
- You’d like to use the other side of letter paper, but your printer keeps jamming when you flip the sheet over. Do you really want to risk jamming your printer feed, or waste ink on jammed pages that annoyingly print out on two pages instead of one?
- You’d like to re-use newspaper, but if you don’t put down a mountain of it, your dog’s poop and/or urine will leak straight to the floor. Aren’t those leak-proof pads better anyway?
- You’d like to recycle all those manila envelopes, but how many packages can one person mail? And won’t it look unprofessional to keep slapping stickers on used envelopes?
You mean well, but reusing paper for its initial use is tough. But what about paper recycling options that have nothing to do with their original purpose? Try to find other ways for the average household to stop throwing away 13K separate sheets of paper per year.
My gift to you: Junk mail
Most of the 13K sheets of paper that are being discarded are packaging and junk mail. Unless those letters or marketing ads are printed on the same size sheets as your computer paper — and there’s no ink printing on both sides — you can’t use the “clean” side of it. And too often, the quality of the junk mail has seen better days during the mail courier’s route. You could dump it into a recycling bin, but why not shred it instead?
Are you already shredding junk mail? Then you’re halfway there. If your goal is just to make sure thieves don’t go through your mail, that’s reasonable. However, why not share your junk mail with a friend? Birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas and graduations are all opportunities in which you’ll probably need some stuffing for your gift bags. Instead of buying even more paper to waste (i.e. gift bag tissue paper), shred a few envelopes and unwanted mail. Get enough of it to dump into a gift bag and spread it around. Safely secure your gift inside, and then add some more. If your gift recipient wants to, (s)he can collect the shredded paper to reuse for someone else. Or, at least take a note from you and start shredding her own junk mail to do the same thing.
Stay out of the peanut gallery: Move smarter
We get it. Sometimes bubble wrap and packing peanuts keep your packages from sliding around. But the same rules apply for all of those retail receipts, old documents in abandoned binders and default printouts in new picture frames. Store as much unwanted paper from these three objects as you can. When you’re ready, shred it all into a big pile and save yourself some much-needed money during your move. Bubble wrap just leads to even more plastic waste, and there’s not a lot that can be done with packing peanuts — besides finding them behind your couch and vacuuming them months later. (Why are those things so messy?)
Of course you can always use outdated newspaper to wrap your picture frames. However, you’ll save yourself some time by just dumping shredded paper in little piles. Individually wrapped newspaper works, but it too often requires multiple layers to avoid pointy and fragile items accidentally slapping against each other. The thickness of the shredded paper — even if it’s a glossy image of strangers — can be a pillow to protect each item.
Make your (fake) plants prettier: Color paper decor
If you have real plants, then you probably have real spills. While it’s highly recommended to just use a hand towel to handle cleanups, instead of using a bunch of paper towels, you also have the option of using old, dog-eared paper. You already know you don’t want it to wreak havoc in your computer printer, but don’t discard it. Wait for your plants (or other kinds of spills) to need it. Or, use it for decor. If you have a vase of fake plants, skip the colorful rocks and stones. Buy a cheap clear vase from a dollar-value store. Take all that gloriously pretty, colorful — and raggedy — paper that has no other use, shred it or tear it into pieces, and decorate the bottom of your vase with it. Guests will have no idea that it’s really the result of a car insurance company you had no intention of signing up for, or the billionth coupon from a home decorating store.
For festive occasions: When garbage becomes party planning
Christmas candy dishes look a little cooler with recycled green paper decorating the dish. Do you have old orange and black paper? Halloween is just waiting for your creativity. Shred it and spread it around your coffee table. Or, be the cool haunted house on the block and sprinkle it around your doorway or window frame. And if you really have an exorbitant amount of old paper, you could always shred it and glue it to a sheet of paper or plain gift bags. Form the paper remains into letters that spell out whatever holiday it is. There are no rules that say “Merry Christmas” can’t be spelled with blue paper — sprinkle some whiteout around your letters (or white paint) and your letters will look like they’ve been snowed on. Yellow ruled paper? No problem. Get ready for your next Easter sign or sunflower art in spring. Red paper? Christmas and Kwanzaa are just waiting for you.
There are countless other ways to make old paper work to your advantage. If none of these eco-friendly options above immediately inspire you, just consider this the next time you reach for a clean sheet of computer paper or a paper towel: “Would my junk mail do the same job?” If it would, use it. By just considering this idea beforehand, you may save yourself from an unnecessary walk to your recycling bin — or worse, the garbage can.
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