Swapping a Printer for a Screen

Here at the University of Michigan, students are allotted 400 free pages of black-and-white printing each semester on campus printers.

Now, unless my math is wrong, with 41,028 students enrolled at U-M this academic year, that means students will print out about 32,822,400 sheets of paper this year if each and every student uses their entire allotment.

OK, that's a fairly large "if." Last semester, I personally didn't use my entire allotment -- but came close, at about 330 pages.

Even then, if every U-M student used only half of their annual allotment, that would still come out to about 16 million printed pages a year. Which is an astounding amount of paper -- and that's just a single university!

College students use an incredible amount of paper each year in their classes -- for printed course packs, individual journal articles, their own papers for classes and the list goes on and on. But with the growing availability of course materials online (JSTOR, ProQuest, Lexis Nexis, etc.) and of online academic servers like CTools and WebCT, students and faculty have the opportunity to save paper usage more than ever before.

With this in mind, I've decided now to stop printing out my own materials as much as I can for the remaining six weeks of the semester. Instead of printing out each journal article I have to read for my classes, I'm now reading strictly online, using U-M's online library resources, newspaper and magazine online archives and other Web sites to read for class.

I'll admit upfront, it's going to be tough. Growing up, I was taught to read with a pen or pencil in hand, marking up margins, underlying important passages, scribbling the occasional musing here and there. But I can't do that now, as I don't think writing on my computer screen will do it any favors. In the few days I've stuck to screen reading, I've adjusted by keeping notes on a separate notepad for each article -- not the same, but good enough until I develop a better system.

So give it a try: Next time you go to print out an article or four for class, read them online instead. I promise you'll be just as prepared and informed for class (that is, if you don't drift off to read Gawker or change your status on Facebook), and you will have saved paper. It's an easy decision, and it even saves you from venturing to your school's computer labs or having to buy a printer yourself. What's to lose?

The goal, of course, is that if students decide to use less paper, colleges and universities will buy less paper in bulk and fewer trees will be needed to supply the ever-growing demand right now on campuses across the country. If U-M uses around 16 million pages a year, the national paper usage total on college campuses must be astronomical.

Compost pile compromised

I hinted in my previous post at a more intensive green lifestyle tweak, something a bit more hands-on than laundry and student printing. Well, it was going to be a compost pile, which I was really excited to write about and describe for you. Unfortunately, the weather here in Ann Arbor had other ideas, dumping snow on us last night and freezing up the ground -- hardly ideal conditions for starting a compost pile.

In the best of weather I doubt whether I'll be able to build a compost pile that actually works. In freezing cold Michigan weather, there's no chance.

But as soon as the weather cooperates, I'll be building my compost pile and recounting that process here. So keep checking back for what's sure to be a humorous post.