Waiting in a queue for a couple of hours isn’t something that I relish. I experienced a long wait yesterday at the US Embassy as my visa application was being processed. The phones had been taken away and hence the most obvious option of killing time was not available. The options were binary, either sit and do nothing or strike a conversation with the folks sitting next to you.
I chose to do nothing for a few minutes until the person sitting next to me made the first move. Somehow I was in no mood to talk but his persistent questions and his general good cheer made me slowly warm up to a chat. It turned out that the young man was a paper trader who had just set up his business in the country. He represented an old family business based out of India and Dubai was their first overseas expansion. The family chose their US educated scion to set this up for them, which would also test the young mans mettle.
I have always been curious to know more about the environmental impact of social media and technology. One on hand, we see electronic waste today emerging as one of the more toxic aspects of our landfills. On the other hand I had assumed that with electronic consumption on an exponential rise, paper consumption should be negatively impacted commensurately. It’s bothered me, since I truly believe that it is about time our consumption becomes a lot more responsible to the environment around us.
To my surprise, I learnt that contrary to my assumption, paper consumption has only grown! The fastest growing segment in the paper industry is the e-commerce space where our orders come wrapped in a generous amount of packaging material, labels, bills etc. Another rapidly expanding paper category is tissue paper which is growing at the cost of hankies that were omnipresent as we were growing up.
While we have stopped writing letters to each other, our communication being substituted by electronic media, we continue to use paper in larger quantities for reasons that were almost unknown a few decades back.
In the last five years the paper business has grown by 6% year on year and has contributed to 200,000 acres of rainforests every day finding an unfortunate and unsustainable alternative. A fact that should concern all of us!
I walked out of the embassy with a firm resolve that something must be done to control our paper consumption when I noticed myself carrying an envelope filled with documents and a wad of tissues in my pocket! It may be tougher than we imagine to change our habits but it’s time we figured a smarter way to live. This is food for thought for the moment, not written on paper!