A paperless office (or paper-free office) is a work environment in which the use of paper is eliminated or greatly reduced. This is done by converting documents and other papers into digital form, a process known as digitization. Proponents claim that "going paperless" can save money, boost productivity, save space, make documentation and information sharing easier, keep personal information more secure, and help the environment. The concept can be extended to communications outside the office as well.
The paperless office was a publicist's slogan, intended to describe the office of the future. It was facilitated by the popularization of video display computer terminals like the 1964 IBM 2260. An early prediction of the paperless office was made in a 1975 Business Week article. The idea was that office automation would make paper redundant for routine tasks such as record-keeping and bookkeeping, and it came to prominence with the introduction of the personal computer. While the prediction of a PC on every desk was remarkably prophetic, the "paperless office" was not. Improvements in printers and photocopiers have made it much easier to reproduce documents in bulk, causing the worldwide use of office paper to more than double from 1980 to 2000. This has been attributed to the increased ease of document production and widespread use of electronic communication, which has resulted in users receiving large numbers of documents that are often printed out. However, since about 2000, at least in the US, the use of office paper has leveled off and is now decreasing, which has been attributed to a generation shift; younger people are believed to be less inclined to print out documents, and more inclined to read them on a full-color interactive display screen. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the average office worker generates approximately two pounds of paper and paperboard products each day.
The term "The Paperless Office" was first used in commerce by Micronet, Inc., an automated office equipment company, in 1978.
Traditional offices have paper-based filing systems, which may include filing cabinets, folders, shelves, microfiche systems, and drawing cabinets, all of which require maintenance, equipment, considerable space, and are resource-intensive. In contrast, a paperless office could simply have a desk, chair, and computer (with a modest amount of local or network storage), and all of the information would be stored in digital form. Speech recognition and speech synthesis could also be used to facilitate the storage of information digitally.
Once computer data is printed on paper, it becomes out-of-sync with computer database updates. Paper is difficult to search and arrange in multiple sort arrangements, and similar paper data stored in multiple locations is often difficult and costly to track and update. A paperless office would have a single-source collection point for distributed database updates, and a publish-subscribe system. Modern computer screens make reading less exhausting for the eyes; a laptop computer can be used on a couch or in bed. With tablet computers and smartphones, with many other low-cost value-added features like video animation, video clips, and full-length movies, many argue that paper is now obsolete to all but those who are resistant to technological change. eBooks are often free or low cost compared to hard-copy books.
Others argue that paper will always have a place because it affords different uses than screens [Sellen, A. J., & Harper, R. H. R. (2003). The myth of the paperless office. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.]
Environmental impact of paper
Main article: Environmental impact of paper
Paper product manufacturing contributes significantly to deforestation and man-made climate change, and produces greenhouse gases. According to the American Forest & Paper Association, paper manufacturing is the third largest user of fossil fuels worldwide. Although measures such as recycling and using tree-free paper can help reduce the environmental impact of paper, most paper still ends up in landfills. Paper production also leads to air pollution, as paper manufacturing releases nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), and carbon dioxide (CO2). Nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide are major contributors to acid rain, whereas CO2 is a greenhouse gas responsible for climate change. Waste water discharged from pulp and paper mills contains solids, nutrients, and dissolved organic matter that are classified as pollutants. Nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus can cause or exacerbate eutrophication of fresh water bodies.
Printing inks and toners are very expensive and use environment-damaging volatile organic compounds, heavy metals and non-renewable oils, although standards for the amount of heavy metals in ink have been set by some regulatory bodies.[which?]Deinking recycled paper pulp results in a waste slurry, sometimes weighing 22% of the weight of the recycled wastepaper, which may go to landfills.
Eliminating paper via automation and electronic forms automation
The need for paper is eliminated by using online systems, such as replacing index cards and rolodexes with databases, typed letters and faxes with email, and reference books with the internet. Another way to eliminate paper is to automate paper-based processes that rely on forms, applications and surveys to capture and share data. This method is referred to as "electronic forms" or e-forms and is typically accomplished by using existing print-perfect documents in electronic format to allow for pre-filling of existing data, capturing data manually entered online by end-users, providing secure methods to submit form data to processing systems, and digitally signing the electronic documents without printing.
The technologies that may be used with electronic forms automation include -
- Portable Document Format (PDF) - to create, display and interact with electronic documents and forms
- E-form (electronic form) management software - to create, integrate and route forms and form data with processing systems
- Databases - to capture data for prefilling and processing documents
- Workflow platforms - to route information, documents and direct process flow
- E-mail (electronics email) communication which allows sending and receiving information of all kinds and enable attachments
- Digital signature solutions - to digitally sign documents (used by end-users)
- Web servers - to host the process, receive submitted data, store documents and manage document rights
One of the main issues that has kept companies from adopting paperwork automation is difficulty capturing digital signatures in a cost-effective and compliant manner. The E-Sign Act of 2000 in the United States provided that a document cannot be rejected on the basis of an electronic signature and required all companies to accept digital signatures on documents. Today there are sufficient cost-effective options available, including solutions that do not require end-users to purchase hardware or software.
One of the great benefits of this type of software is that you can use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) to search the full text of any file. Additionally, tags can be added to each file to make it easier to locate certain files throughout the entire system.
Some paperless software offers a scanner, hardware and software and works seamlessly in separating and organizing important documents. Paperless software might also allow people to enable online signatures for important documents that can be used in any small business or office. Document management and archiving systems do offer some methods of automating forms. Typically, the point in which document management systems start working with a document is when the document is scanned and/or sent into the system. Many document management systems include the ability to read documents via optical character recognition (OCR) and use that data within the document management system’s framework. While this technology is essential to achieving a paperless office it does not address the processes that generate paper in the first place.
Digitizing paper-based documents
Another key aspect of the paperless office philosophy is the conversion of paper documents, photos, engineering plans, microfiche and all the other paper based systems to digital documents. Technologies that may be used for this include scanners, digital mail solutions, book copiers, wide format scanners (for engineering drawings), microfiche scanners, fax to PDF conversion, online post offices, multifunction printers and document management systems. Each of these technologies uses software that converts the raster formats (bitmaps) into other forms depending on need. Generally, they involve some form of image compression technology that produces smaller raster images or use optical character recognition (OCR) to convert a document into text. A combination of OCR and raster is used to enable search ability while maintaining the original form of the document. An important step is the labeling related to paper-to-digital conversion and the cataloging of scanned documents. Some technologies have been developed to do this, but they generally involve either human cataloging or automated indexing on the OCR document. However, scanners and software continue to improve with the development of small, portable scanners that are able to scan doubled-sided A4 documents at around 30-35ppm to a raster format (typically TIFF fax 4 or PDF).
An issue faced by those wishing to take the paperless philosophy to the limit has been copyright laws. These laws may restrict the transfer of documents protected by copyright from one medium to another, such as converting books to electronic format.
Securing and tracing documents
As awareness of identity theft and data breaches became more widespread, new laws and regulations were enacted, requiring companies that manage or store personally identifiable information to take proper care of those documents. Paperless office systems are easier to secure than traditional filing cabinets, and can track individual accesses to each document.
Difficulties in adopting the paperless office
A major difficulty in "going paperless" is that much of a business's communication is with other businesses and individuals, as opposed to just being internal. Electronic communication requires both the sender and the recipient to have easy access to appropriate software and hardware.
There may be costs and temporary productivity losses when converting to a paperless office. Government regulations and business policy may also slow down the change. Businesses may encounter technological difficulties such as file format compatibility, longevity of digital documents, system stability, and employees and clients not having appropriate technological skills.
And, there may be a reduction of paper, but some uses of paper will remain.
Despite the myth of a truly paperless office, a questionnaire suggested that nearly half of small/medium-sized businesses believed they were or could go paperless by the end of 2015.
People (Customer) need to be more aware of the important of paperless office to the society and comply with the organization.
- ^"The Office of the Future", Business Week (2387): 48–70, 30 June 1975
- ^ abc"Technological comebacks: Not dead, just resting", The Economist, 2008-10-09
- ^"Wastes - Resource Conservation - Common Wastes & Materials - Paper Recycling". US Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved January 26, 2013.
- ^The Paperless Office Trademark Registration, United States Patent and Trademark Office, retrieved 13 December 2015
- ^"Office Chairs". Retrieved 19 October 2016
- ^Madden, Ned (December 8, 2009). "Sustainability Software, Part 2: Cutting the Paper Chase". TechNewsWorld. Retrieved January 26, 2013.
- ^"Air Pollutants of Concern". New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. Retrieved January 26, 2013.
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- ^"Recycling Paper and Glass". US Department of Energy. September 2006. Retrieved 2007-10-30.
- ^Walker, Richard (2009-08-07), "Achieving The Paperless Office"(PDF), Efficient Technology Inc
- ^Walker, Richard (2009-08-07). "Achieving The Paperless Office"(PDF). Efficient Technology Inc.
- ^"E-Office: An Eco-friendly Advent of Cloud Computing Technology". Retrieved 2016-08-16.
- ^Sellen, A. J., & Harper, R. H. R. (2003). The myth of the paperless office. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
- ^"Nearly Half of Businesses are or could go Paperless in 2015". www.margolis.co.uk. Retrieved 13 July 2015.
- Sellen, Abigail J.; Harper, Richard H. R. (2001), The Myth of the Paperless Office, Cambridge, MA, United States: The MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-19464-3 - discusses limitations of the paperless office, and the valuable role paper can play for knowledge workers.
- Gladwell, Malcolm (2002-03-25), "The Social Life of Paper", The New Yorker
Plastic is all around us. It forms much of the packaging for our food and drink. For many of us, it is throughout our home, our workplace, our car, the bus we take to and from work. It can be in our clothing, eyeglasses, teeth, toothbrush, computers, phones, dishes, utensils, toys. The list goes on, especially when you look around and begin to notice the plastic in your life.
Plastic is versatile, lightweight, flexible, moisture resistant, durable, strong and relatively inexpensive. It can be chemical resistant, clear or opaque, and practically unbreakable. These are wonderful useful qualities, and plastic plays many important roles in life on Earth, but the widespread use of plastic is also causing unprecedented environmental problems, and harbours serious health risks – especially for children. Plastic should be used wisely, with caution and only when suitable alternatives do not exist or are not available.
What is Plastic and Where did it Come From?
The term "plastic" derives from the Greek "plastikos," meaning fit for molding, and "plastos," meaning molded. In line with this root etymology, and in the broadest sense, a plastic is a material that at some stage in its manufacture is able to be shaped by flow such that it can be extruded, molded, cast, spun, or applied as a coating.
Plastics are polymers (meaning "many parts" in Greek), which are basically substances or molecules made up of many repeating molecular units, known as monomers (meaning "one part" in Greek). Monomers of hydrogen and carbon - hydrocarbons - are linked together in long chains to form plastic polymers. The raw hydrocarbon material for most synthetic plastics is derived from petroleum, natural gas or coal.
The length and structural arrangement of the polymer chains in part determines the properties of the plastic. Densely packed polymers can create a rigid plastic, whereas loosely spaced ones can lead to a softer more pliable plastic. However, the polymers alone rarely have the physical qualities to be of practical value, so most plastics contain various chemical additives to facilitate the manufacturing process or produce a particular desirable property, such as flexibility or toughness. As we discuss below, these chemical additives can be very problematic from a health perspective.
The first documented plastic was created in 1855 by the British inventor and metallurgist Alexander Parkes who used natural cellulose in combination with nitric acid and chemical solvents to create a plastic he patented as "Parkesine." The first totally human-made, completely synthetic plastic came about in 1907 when Belgian-born, New York-based Leo Baekeland used hydrocarbon chemicals he derived from coal to create Bakelite, which came to be used in radio and television casings, kitchenware and even toys.
And thus emerged the plastic era, especially taking off following World War II when all kinds of day to day household items began to be made of plastics.
Environmentally, plastic is a growing disaster. Most plastics are made from petroleum or natural gas, non-renewable resources extracted and processed using energy-intensive techniques that destroy fragile ecosystems.
The manufacture of plastic, as well as its destruction by incineration, pollutes air, land and water and exposes workers to toxic chemicals, including carcinogens.
Plastic packaging – especially the ubiquitous plastic bag – is a significant source of landfill waste and is regularly eaten by numerous marine and land animals, to fatal consequences. Synthetic plastic does not biodegrade. It just sits and accumulates in landfills or pollutes the environment. Plastics have become a municipal waste nightmare, prompting local governments all over the world to implement plastic bag, and increasingly polystyrene (styrofoam), bans.
Plastic pollution may not even be visible to the naked eye as research is showing that microscopic plastic particles are present in the air at various locations throughout the world and in all major oceans. Plastic is now ubiquitous in our terrestrial, aquatic and airborne environments - that is, it's everywhere.
For more information and references on the environmental issues related to plastics, see the Plastic Types, Plastics & the Environment, and Resources sections in our INFO menu.
In terms of health risks, the evidence is growing that chemicals leached from plastics used in cooking and food/drink storage are harmful to human health. Some of the most disturbing of these are hormone-mimicking, endocrine disruptors, such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates.
The plastic polycarbonate - used for water bottles and various other items requiring a hard, clear plastic - is composed primarily of BPA. Peer-reviewed scientific studies have linked BPA to health problems that include chromosomal and reproductive system abnormalities, impaired brain and neurological functions, cancer, cardiovascular system damage, adult-onset diabetes, early puberty, obesity and resistance to chemotherapy. Exposure to BPA at a young age can cause genetic damage, and BPA has been linked to recurrent miscarriage in women.
The health risks of plastic are significantly amplified in children, whose immune and organ systems are developing and are more vulnerable. The evidence of health risks from certain plastics is increasingly appearing in established, peer-reviewed scientific journals.
Of the thousands of chemical additives added to plastics - and which manufacturers are not required to disclose - one type commonly added to plastics are "plasticizers," which are softening agents making it easier for the polymer chains to move and be flexible.
For example, the commonly used and extremely toxic plastic polyvinyl chloride (PVC) can contain up to 55% plasticizing additives by weight. These are generally phthalate chemicals. Phthalates are known to disrupt the endocrine system as well, and have been linked to numerous health conditions including cancers. Certain phthalates have been banned in Europe and the U.S. for use in certain products, such as toys.
For details and references on numerous types of plastics, please see the Plastic Types section.
For more information and references on the health issues related to plastics, see our Plastic Types, Plastics & Health, and Resources sections in our INFO menu.
Alternatives to Plastic do Exist -- so does Empowered Action!
What you have just read may have depressed you to no end. No, no, no. Don't despair! Feel empowered and educated. And don't just take our word on the plastic problem; follow some of the links in our Resources section and do more of your own research on the issues. It is time for all of us to take action and do our part to decrease our use of plastics and help solve the problems of plastic pollution.
There is a huge and growing community of like-minded folks out there all over the world who are working with you to decrease plastic use and pollution and create tangible change at all levels - personal, local, regional, national, global...
Please take a look at our Action section for ways that you can make a difference through individual actions in your own life and by supporting organizations working for change.
And there are many alternatives to plastics now available. Our Plastic Alternatives section highlights and provides information on numerous alternatives ranging from glass, wood and stainless steel to wool, hemp and cotton.
A key aspect of our Vision and Quest is to help people find safe, high quality, ethically sourced, Earth-friendly alternatives to plastic products. That is why our Store exists, so please feel free to browse the Store at your leisure. And if you can't find what you are looking for, please let us know. We are always adding new alternatives to plastics to our product line.
Thank you for visiting, and all the best on your plastic-free journey!
Key references for the above text:
- Anthony L. Andrady, ed. Plastics and the Environment. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2003.
- E.S. Stevens. Green Plastics: An Introduction to the New Science of Biodegradeable Plastics. Princeton & Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2002.
- Richard C. Thompson, Shanna H. Swan, Charles J. Moore, Frederick S. vom Saal. "Our Plastic Age." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. Vol. 364, No. 1526, 27 July 2009, pp. 1973-1976.
IMPORTANT NOTES: While we strive to provide as accurate and balanced information as possible on our website, Life Without Plastic cannot guarantee its accuracy or completness because there is always more research to do, and more up-to-date research studies emerging -- and this is especially the case regarding research on the health and environmental effects of plastics. As indicated in our Terms & Conditions, none of the information presented on this website is intended to be professional advice or to constitute a professional service to the individual reader. All matters regarding health require medical supervision, and the information presented on this website is not intended as a substitute for consulting with your physician.
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