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A Bid for the Paperless Office: Facts & Stats on Paper Usage

Heather Mueller
January 2, 2019
Min Read

Post last updated January 9, 2022

If you had to guess, how many pieces of paper would you say you go through in a year at the office?

  • 1,000?
  • 3,000?
  • 5,000?

How about 10,000? According to studies, that’s the number of sheets the average office worker uses.

The rise of computers was hailed as the beginning of the paperless office era decades ago. But somehow, paper consumption continues to climb. And offices everywhere are still struggling to determine how best to reduce paper usage.

Wait, Paper Usage Is Increasing?

Yes, you read that right. Companies around the world are working toward creating paperless environments. Yet true benefits of the paperless office remain far from reach for a surprising number of businesses. Consider the following stats and facts:

Through 2025, end-use market output of paper is expected to rise by an average of half a percent.

That may not sound like a significant increase. But it means that the world's two biggest producers, the U.S. and China, have already surpassed 183 million metric tons of paper and cardboard.

Every year, the average American uses an astounding 700 pounds of paper products per person. In the last 20 years, the usage of paper products in the U.S. reached 208 million tons (up from 92 million), which is a growth of 126%. Yet much of this paper is wasted.

Did you know? There's a rumor that Big Paper is fueling the rise in paper consumption. Help us stop Big Paper before they make paper forms more prevalent than ever.

Paper Fuels Waste

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, paper products make up the largest percentage of all materials that end up in landfills—more than plastics, metals, and even yard trimmings. Much of that waste can be traced back to the office, where employees are still leaning heavily on copier paper, computer printouts, notepads, stationary, and business envelopes.

It’s been estimated that 45% of paper printed in offices ends up trashed by the end of the day, and that companies spend more than $120 billion a year on printed forms—most of which outdate themselves within three months’ time.

And no, it doesn’t all get recycled. Thousands of tons of paper, plastics, and other materials left curbside for recycling go to landfills instead.

Sustainability isn’t the only reason to evaluate a company’s paper usage. For example, just looking for paper files can take as much as 40% of an office worker’s time. And an estimated 20% of print jobs are never retrieved from printers, leaving sensitive data available to anyone who passes by.

Not surprisingly, more than 80% of surveyed businesses want to create more paperless workflows and processes. With so many technology advances and digital innovations, it’s becoming easier than ever to go paperless.

How to Go Paperless with Digital Solutions

Whether it’s part of a sustainability initiative or a push to tighten your budget, here are three easy ways to go paperless today.

1. Gather signatures electronically.

From human resources documents to client contracts, most businesses cycle through hundreds or even thousands of signatures each year. If your various departments are still relying on the traditional pen-and-paper method, switching to electronic signatures will help you take big strides toward paperless document management.

Collected correctly, electronic signatures provide the same legal standing as handwritten signatures. They’re also much more secure, convenient, and cost-effective.

2. Replace paper forms with online forms.

It’s not just signatures that should be collected digitally. Any time you find yourself or your staff handing out a paper form, consider it another opportunity to cut down on paper usage. In addition to creating a more paperless environment, online forms offer tremendous bottom-line benefits.

From surveys and questionnaires to consent and data collection, using an online form builder will allow you to automate workflows and data entry. This, in turn, leads to some big benefits of a paperless office where employees are freed from tedious tasks to focus on more strategic work that drives the business forward. Don't become stuck in a loop of endless paperwork like the organization in the video below.

3. Go paperless with document management.

Lastly, do a quick audit to determine how much of the paper your office goes through is really necessary. Are there mailings that would be more effective in a marketing automation format? Handouts that would be easier to collaborate on in the cloud? You may be surprised to discover just how many opportunities your office has for going paperless, just by examining day-to-day habits.

While it may not be realistic to completely eliminate paper in your office, there are plenty of steps companies can take right now to ditch the most common offenders.

Ready to create a paperless office? Discover how Formstack can help you eliminate paper, end manual data entry, and stay more agile and productive.


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Heather Mueller
Heather is a website copywriter and digital content strategist who loves helping brands generate leads through the power of the written word—especially when using Formstack. Connect with Heather on Twitter @heathermueller.
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