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Global warming and our itchy printer fingers

By Tom Lucas - posted Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A few days ago, my usual tranquil demeanour very quickly transformed to a seething but restrained rage during a visit to the office photocopier. Surprisingly, my beef was not with the photocopier itself, though the infernal machines are known to try the patience of the Mother Theresa’s of the world. Rather, I was confronted with a shameful sight commonly found in most offices of today’s so-called ‘digital age’. It was a sight so outrageous in a society that is panicking about global warming, that my morning soon turned into one of researching paper, of all things.

Sprawled haphazardly all over the photocopier, were dozens of uncollected printouts sourced from every workstation in the office. They spewed from both output trays, on top of the input tray, in random piles, face up, face down, A3 and A4 sizes alike. This was in addition to the large bin beside the photocopier filled to the brim with rejected sheets.

Every day this happens, in offices all over Australia and the world. Piles of paper are unnecessarily printed, or the culprit simply does not come to collect their stash. They add to the never-ending waste we are piling up around us, and subtract from the rainforests that we so quickly blame others for destroying. We shake our heads and voice our opinions on the perils of global warming, the destruction of the rainforests, and the horrific desecration of Mother Earth, but if you're an office worker who uses the printer like it's a free vending machine, you're not exactly blameless.


The digital age was supposed help us become ‘paperless’. Instead, consider these alarming facts:

·      As recently as 2005, Australians were using more than 3.5 million tonnes of paper each year. Only 11 per cent of Australia’s office paper being recycled, with nearly 9 out of 10 sheets of office paper being thrown away. [1]

·      It is estimated that 95 per cent of business information is still stored on paper.[2]

·      Over 45 per cent of the files in those cabinets are duplicated information, and 80 per cent is never accessed again.[3]

·      10,000 trees are cut down annually in China alone to make holiday cards.[4]

·      Every tree provides oxygen enough for three people to breathe.[5]


·      Paper manufacturing is the 3rd largest user of fossil fuels worldwide.[6]

When the digital age was born, many thrilling technological wonders lay ahead. One obvious perk was speed and the ability to perform calculations instantly that would otherwise take hours by hand. Another was the capacity to communicate and network with people all over the world. But importantly, we were supposed to drastically reduce our need for and consumption of paper. What a startling fallacy that last one has become.

Not only did computing technology evolve, but so too did printing technology. And as printing technology became faster, easier, cheaper and more efficient, our paper consumption got worse. As technology evolved, so did we. We developed ‘itchy printer fingers’.

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About the Author

Tom Lucas (BAppSc, DipBus, DipMgt) is a geoscientist.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Tom Lucas

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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