8:29 a.m.: You arrive in class and begin to get ready to hear the latest lecture on determinism and free will, 18th century Spanish literature, or whatever. What do you get out to take notes on? (a) a PC laptop, (b) an Apple MacBook, (c) a spiral notebook you just bought at Conkey’s yesterday, (d) a notebook you used last term for Freshman Studies and has blank pages left, or (e) some paper only used on one side that you just nicked from the recycle bin. Let’s have a quick look at the drawbacks and advantages of each of these before the Prof comes in.
A PC laptop or MacBook. There are actually differences in the “greenness” of PCs versus Mac computers. Unfortunately, little information was available specifically on laptops, so I’ve used desktops as a surrogate comparison. The typical laptop of either flavor uses energy at anywhere from 15 to 45 watts (W, or joules of energy per second, a lightbulb uses 60). A PC desktop computer uses at minimum 95 but up to 330W. On the other side of the street, there’s iMacs, which use 97 to 120W at the most. Extrapolating these numbers to laptops, MacBooks are more energy efficient — use less energy to do the same task — than PC notebooks.
However, there are computers that are much more energy efficient than a Mac. Two companies offer alternatives: Linutop makes tiny computers (sans monitor) that use only 5 to 8 watts. And Zonbu makes a laptop that has uses only 15 watts. That’s pretty impressive!
Still, computers do use power, end of story, whether it’s temporarily battery powered and will need to be recharged through the outlet later, or you plug in during class. But I’m lacking space in this column to talk about power generation, so we’ll save that argument for another week.
Let’s move on to spiral notebooks. There are several issues to consider: origin of paper pulp, percent recycled content, manufacturing process, the color of paper and processing location. Paper comes from wood and wood comes from forests: virgin forests, rainforests, managed forests, etc. We all learned in fifth grade that cutting down the rainforest destroys plants and animal habitat. Sustainably managed forests, however, create habitat and promote re-growth of a renewable resource. Some notebooks say on the front or back cover that they are made from timber from a sustainably managed forest, or made of “wood-free” paper, such as banana fibers. Some are made with some or all recycled content. Mead makes notebooks with 30% recycled content. Ampad manufactures Champion with all their products “made with recycled material” — though if it doesn’t say how much is recycled, it’s probably not enough to matter.
Recycled paper may also have been bleached in the manufacturing process. Bleaching processes release dioxins, known carcinogens, into the environment. Furthermore, any dyes coloring the paper pollute water sources just as dyes in clothing do. If the paper’s shipped halfway across the country, this uses non-renewable oil in the process.
The best option is to just grab paper that has one clean side from the recycling bin next to any printer and make your own notebook. This uses good paper that would otherwise be bleached to make new paper or, even worse, wind up in a landfill, where up to 40% of solid waste is paper!
You can make a notebook by stapling one-sided sheets together between cardboard from a cereal box. Or if you’re stitch-inclined, sew sheets to a reusable, durable fabric cover. Works beautifully. Also, it’s free!
Now you’re ready to get out your pen and take notes. Odds are during class you’re professor probably will hand you paper to read: an article, a lab handout, a work sheet. Is it printed on two sides? If not, ask your prof if she wouldn’t like to carry half as much paper to the next lecture. What if you get emailed a PDF? Well, if it’s not something you just have to read closely and scribble all over, why not read it on the screen? Adobe PDF readers — depending on version — let you highlight and comment right on the screen just like you would on the paper. Plus, it saves you walking all the way down from your room to the computer lab to print.
Theoretically, you could get through an entire school year without using a single new sheet of paper, assuming your prof doesn’t mind getting handed double-sided essays. If everyone started doing this, how long do you think it would take Lawrence to create no single-sided paper waste?
See you next week in the library.
Sources: Zonbu, Linutop, National Geographic: The Green Guide, Wikipedia