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Pushing (Recycled) Paper

By Joshua Brown Article published April 25, 2006

Green Copier
It's a go: Administration greenlights recycled paper policy as a result of student research and action. (Photo: Joshua Brown)

The 1970’s vision of the “paperless office” now seems as naive as the 1950’s dream of nuclear power “too cheap to meter.” Just check your recycling bin. The use of email has brought a 40 percent increase in the use of paper, one study shows. The average US office worker uses over 10,000 sheets of paper each year — and that number is growing. UVM used about 27 million sheets of copier paper in 2005, according to the company that provides the university’s photocopiers. Office paper seems here to stay.

But what kind of paper? As of Earth Day, April 22, 2006, the answer across campus will be: 100 percent post-consumer recycled and chlorine-free.

The new policy is a tale of student activism, not with spray-painted signs, but quiet interviews. As a service-learning project for the Environmental Council, Natalia Fajardo ’06 and Taylor Lalemand ’08 researched paper purchasing patterns of departments across the university.

“It was shocking and sad to discover that only a little [24 percent] was 100 percent recycled and almost half [42 percent] the paper being used was virgin,” says Fajardo. “That’s a lot of trees.”

'Let's make this happen'
With guidance from the council, and input from Procurement Services and Print & Mail Services, the two students developed a case for why the use of recycled paper was consistent with UVM’s goals as a leading environmental university.

“Copier paper is the most common paper purchase at the university,” says Gioia Thompson, UVM’s environmental coordinator, who supervised the students’ project. “We’re pretty good at putting our waste paper into the blue bins, but the other half of the equation is supporting markets for recycled waste paper. We need to do both and close the loop.”

The Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and Bailey/Howe Library along with other departments have responded to student requests and have been using 100 percent recycled copier paper for several years. Unlike some brands available in the 1990s, the new generation of recycled papers don’t gum up copiers and are available at competitive prices.

“It only took President Fogel a few minutes to look at our presentation,” Fajardo says, resting her hand on a box of the newly mandated paper, Boise Aspen 100, near the copier room of the Aiken Center. “Then he said, ‘Let’s make this happen.’”

But this brief presentation rested on long hours of preparation — and follows a nearly 10-year history of student interest in making this change, including a petition to former UVM President Judith Ramaley, an environmental studies thesis on the topic and a unanimous resolution of support by the student senate in 2005.

Wide-ranging impact
Fajardo and Lalemand began their effort strategically: they worked with the President’s Office first to switch over to 100 percent recycled paper. Then, with help from Dave Martin and others in procurement, the two students interviewed budget managers across campus — starting with staff at the largest users of virgin paper stock, the College of Medicine and the College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences — and found widespread support for purchasing recycled paper. The biggest obstacles seemed to be price and lack of awareness about the impacts of paper production.

Their research made those impacts clear; they calculated that replacing the 19,500 reams of virgin paper bought at UVM in 2004 with recycled paper would have saved 770 trees, prevented 100,000 pounds of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere and kept 52,000 pounds of solid waste out of the landfill. And bleaching paper with something other than chlorine prevents the formation of dioxins, perhaps the most nasty chemicals known to science.

They also concluded that the total additional cost for the university to switch to recycled paper would be $21,000 to $33,000 over the current $118,000 spent each year on copier paper. Staff in most departments were “receptive to absorbing the cost,” their report notes, a jump from about $2.40 to $3.33 per ream. (That cost premium may decline as the university negotiates vendor contracts based on the new policy.)

“And there is so much chance for reduction,” Fajardo says, “just double siding, thinking, ‘do I really need that printed out?’ only printing what you need. It’s really not too hard. With a little bit of effort we could make up the extra cost.”

UVM’s new policy follows similar policies at Princeton, Humboldt State, College of the Atlantic and other universities. It only applies to routine copying, leaving flexibility for specialized uses and machines.

For Fajardo, an environmental sciences major, this campaign to promote recycled paper started with a childhood concern for hurt pigeons in her home, the sprawling city of Bogota, Colombia. “I’ve always cared about the environment,” she says. “I’d see pollution in the river and would say, “Dad, why is that?’” Her concern about UVM’s paper supply began when she had a question about how to recycle Styrofoam. “This lead me to the Environmental Council,” she says. “I’ve always been a what-can-I-do-about-it kind of person.”