Paper has served as a crucial medium in the creation, transfer and preservation of thought throughout human history. Times have rapidly changed, however, as paper is increasingly being purposed in ways that create waste in exchange for convenience. Some 18.5 million trees are cut each year so that Americans can receive bills in the mail. Six billion pounds of napkins end up in landfills annually. Paper phone books still account for more than 10 percent of waste in dump sites. We can do better than this.
In recognition of the 44th annual Earth Day — and an ever-present need to minimize wasted paper (and words) — I have curated a short, simple list of mobile apps that help transform everyday paper-driven activities into more environmentally friendly paperless experiences.
Every day, 60 million people pick up and read a newspaper — and every day, 40 million throw those newspapers away. It is projected that approximately 10 million tons of newspaper will end up in landﬁll in the next decade. And with the shrinking pool of print news subscribers, newspapers are increasingly turning to online channels to reach new audiences. Newsreader app Circa aims to help readers save paper through mobile news consumption, and save time with atomized articles well suited to on-the-go reading. The added plus of being able to follow individual articles to receive event-speciﬁc updates makes for an even stronger case to wait on buying that next hard-copy issue.
Annual paper consumption of textbooks is estimated to be about 200,000 tons — a staggering number. The people behind Inkling believe that students should be able to buy, store and consume their textbooks digitally. The added benefits of being able to buy individual chapters of books, search for speciﬁc course content and interact with exclusive visual and testing material make Inkling a paperless alternative that reduces the carbon footprint of big-name publishers while also minimizing strain on the lower backs of countless high school and college students.
Every college-bound high school student has stressed about the SAT. For the two million students who experience this tension every year, acquiring study materials very quickly becomes a priority. SAT test-prep books are notoriously thick (particularly the 1,000-page standard College Board prep book); ScoreBeyond’s fully-featured test-prep app SAT Up packs everything one might need to prepare for the exam into a single application that offers personalized SAT “workouts,” vocabulary exercises and personalized feedback, all while helping students collectively save about 20 tons of paper every day.
According to the Association of Magazine Media, 400 million magazines are printed annually in the U.S. alone. Almost 50 percent of the 1.5 million tons of magazines in circulation are thrown out and not recycled. To avoid contributing to this statistic, readers might give digital magazines a try via Zinio, the “world’s largest newsstand,” which offers more 5,500 magazine titles. Some may be concerned about losing the magazine experience, but Zinio focuses on delivering its titles through high-quality scans, enhancing the experience through such features as text-only reading and interactive advertising.
Snail mail is a beautiful thing when it comes from the people you care about, but every piece of meaningful mail seems to bring with it ﬁve pieces of unwanted junk mail. So where does that paper spam end up when you throw it out? Approximately one-third of all the mail that gets sent out every year — roughly 55 billion pieces — ends up in commercial landﬁlls. The founders of PaperKarma recognized this problem, and set out to solve it by allowing users to snap photos of their unwanted paper mail, press “Send,” and unsubscribe, effectively mimicking the “unsubscribe” button commonly found in the footers of most promotional emails. The app will notify you once you’ve successfully been unsubscribed, so you can rest easy knowing that you’ve reduced home clutter while helping the environment.
Jonathan Tzou currently leads content and product initiatives at ScoreBeyond, an education technology company focused on building mobile solutions to improve the habits and outcomes of students worldwide. Prior to ScoreBeyond, Jonathan held product, marketing and business-development roles at Kno and TouchOfModern. Reach him @jtzou.