Scrap Paper Saves Money and the Environment

More than 20 years ago, inspired by Earth Day 1990 and by one of my high school teachers handing out a huge amount of paper printed only on one side that was useless after a single day’s activity, I designated a bin on my desk for scrap paper: full sheets of paper with one blank side that could be used for a new purpose.

I have been saving and using scrap paper ever since.  I use it to write notes to myself, to do arithmetic and make little charts related to my work as the data manager of a research study, to plan my family’s meals, to write my weekly to-do list, to copy recipes off the Internet for our recipe binder (Why fire up the laser printer–only to find that the page prints in a weird format in too-small type on several sheets of paper–when I could hand-write the recipe in the exact format I prefer?), to write down directions from Google Maps in my own words (which helps me understand and remember them so that I can spend less time glancing away from the road), to take minutes for my church vestry, to sketch the architectural ideas I still have from time to time.

My six-year-old son does most of his drawing and writing on scrap paper.  (His school encourages kids to use it, too!)  That’s a family tradition: I grew up drawing on the backs of dot-matrix computer printouts from my father’s office and, for my smaller works, thousands of IBM punchcards he’d brought home!  I love being able to let Nicholas draw and write to his heart’s content without criticizing him for “wasting” paper.

Do you prefer notebooks?  Punch holes in your scrap paper and put it in a binder.  Being able to rearrange the pages is an advantage over a spiral notebook or composition book.  If you like a hard surface to hold on your arm while writing, try a clipboard.

We’ve done some fun crafts with scrap paper!  When I was a Girl Scout leader, I provided the troop with a big packet of scrap paper that we used whenever the girls were writing ideas.  At one point, they wanted to make paper flowers to decorate for our awards ceremony; various flowers were made from tissue and construction paper, but we also pulled out all the colored sheets (except brown) from the scrap paper and used them to make flat flowers: Cut a center of one color, petals of various colors, and stem and leaves of green, and glue the whole thing together with the blank side of the paper facing forward.  I still have some of these flowers on the walls in my house. 🙂  Scrap paper also is great for making colorful link chains to decorate a room; glossy paper with photos on it, like old magazines, may be the best kind for that.

Letter-size sheets, cut in half the long way and then in thirds the short way, make great memo paper for phone messages and shopping lists.  Of course, there’s no need to cut up full sheets if you happen to have some smaller pieces of blank-on-one side paper; I first substituted scrap paper for memo pads when my 1994 summer job discarded a bunch of misprinted name tags!  Store memo sheets on a small clipboard if you have one, or stack them in a small basket, or keep them under a paperweight, or hold them together with a binder clip to make a sort of notepad.

Nicholas recently appointed himself Memo Paper Minister for our church. 🙂  When I open a pile of junk mail and sort out the various useful components, I make a stack of smaller paper and “good” envelopes–the ones that don’t have windows and have one main panel across the back instead of corners glued together on the diagonal.  Nicholas chooses a largish envelope to store the memo paper.  He cuts the sheets in half if they’re too big to fit in the envelope.  I taught him how to hold a smaller envelope up to the light and cut off a strip at each side where the front and back are glued together, then cut off the flap, then cut the front and back apart along the crease, creating at least two memo sheets.  At the church, we have a packet of this paper on each bulletin board and next to the pencil jar on the kitchen windowsill.  Nicholas checks these regularly and replenishes them when needed–all I have to do is help him remember to bring the new stock of paper next time we go to church.

Old file folders are excellent sources of stiff paper.  I’ve used them to make notebook dividers at work, and I replaced the dividers in my coupon organizer by cutting up bright-colored file folders that had been discarded by Nick’s preschool.

My pile of full-sized scrap paper (now in a milk crate!) has never been completely depleted!  There’s an endless supply of the stuff.  It pours in from junk mail, useful mail that we’re done using, school flyers, and so on.  Nicholas’s recent creativity was getting us close to the bottom of the pile (I saw flyers from my college freshman orientation!) just as I replaced a bunch of files at work with electronically filed documents, so I brought home the pages with nothing confidential on them–about a ream of paper!  If I ever find myself in some public place needing paper, I raid the nearest recycling bin.

My devotion to scrap paper has saved me a lot of money over two decades!  I almost never buy blank paper of any kind.  It’s also helped the environment even more than buying recycled paper and then recycling it–reusing the paper uses much less energy than recycling it, and then it still can be recycled after reuse.  Alternatively, it can be converted into gerbil bedding and then compost!

Visit Your Green Resource and Waste Not Want Not Wednesday for more Earth-friendly ideas!

28 thoughts on “Scrap Paper Saves Money and the Environment

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  2. Ha, as a child I also went through my father’s punch cards and discarded computer paper printouts. The computer paper was my main source of paper for over a decade. I drew on it, cut it up, made my own notebooks (still have a bunch of those in my box of childhood artifacts). I currently use junk mail for scribbling transient memos on.

    I do like using fresh paper notebooks for certain purposes, but since most of my writing these days is into a computer, my consumption of new paper is fairly low.

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  8. I use scrap paper too.

    As a side note, my first Earth day was in Pittsburgh. I think at 3 rivers park?? I can’t remember, but it was downtown. I was on a field trip for my biology class. (I went to college in western PA.) I’m trying to remember if it was in 1989 or 1990, but your first sentence reminding me of it.

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  16. Lol, “memo pad minister” is super cute. I keep a basket under my printer for page screwups, etc so I can reuse the paper as scrap – I use it to cut up and tape to freezer containers as labels (i.e. Chicken Noodle Soup, Muffins, etc).

    Thanks so much for sharing this on Waste Not Want Not Wednesday!

  17. I have been diagnosed with a mild case of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. My biggest obsession is with waste, and paper is the single biggest element. I almost always print on the back of scrap paper. I try to get off of mailing lists, but with the mail I still get, I use it as scrap, either for printing or for writing.

    I use scrap paper and the backs of envelopes for various purposes: taking notes, designing software, grocery lists (a list saves you money).

    I bought a ream of printer paper 12 years ago, and I still have 80% of it left.

    • If those are your worst symptoms, I think you’ve been misdiagnosed with OCD–that’s pretty reasonable, responsible behavior and doesn’t sound like it’s interfering with your life.

      I’ve also taken years to use a ream of paper that I bought for my printer, but that has more to do with the printer becoming obsolete and my not replacing it…. Not owning a printer and having to go out of my way to print things, I use less paper.

      I once damaged a printer at work, though, by printing on the backs of pages. That was a laser printer that was not designed to print double-sided, and apparently its design was such that the heat that fuses the toner onto the page also caused toner from the previously-printed side to come off and get into places where toner should not go. It was repairable, but I had to stop printing on backs. Since then we have increased server capacity so that we can save all our output electronically instead of printing it.

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