Our Printers may be Eco-friendly but Our Professors Aren't

By Margaret O’Halloran

I’m tired of being scolded for printing. Oh, I get it, trust me, I’m an environmental studies major and I live in the EcoHouse. I get that wasting paper is wrong. I know that trees are being cut down and then processed into these perfectly white sheets of paper that are used like they are in infinite supply. Every time I sit down at a computer in the HRC it asks me if I really need to print what I’m printing. Well, yes. I do. My professor wants me to have a copy in class and it hurts my eyes and head less to read off of a page than off of a back-lit computer screen.Last semester between the readings I printed for class and the notes that I took I must have used about 1,000 pages of paper. That is with putting multiple pages per sheet and printing double sided. At the end of finals in the midst of packing up for break, I took out all my old readings and notes from my binders and stacked them up on my counter top. It was a pretty impressive stack. I’m not one for keeping notes from class to class (a habit I always eventually regret) so I recycled the entire pile. Conscience clear. Well usually. This year it wasn’t.

It’s probably a side effect of my “eco” living this year, but I couldn’t shake the fact that it wasn’t okay that I had printed so much, even if I did recycle it in the end. Wouldn’t it be better to not use any of that paper at all? Over break I toyed with the idea of having a paperless semester. No notebooks, no printing, and email all my papers to my professors instead of turning in a hard copy. It seemed like a lofty goal, and it proved to be true before I even returned to classes. I quickly realized I’d need at least one notebook for French class. Google translate anyone? My hopes remained high for my three other classes, however.

On the first day, I asked one of my professors if she minded if I used my laptop to take notes in class. She did. She said that she felt if one student used a laptop in class that it would tempt other students to do so, and seeing that wall of screens in front of her made her feel distanced from her students. I can’t say that I blame her for having that preference. I know that it can be off putting when you feel like everyone is engaged with their electronics rather than your lecture. I found that my other two professors had similar feelings about electronics in the class, as stated on their syllabi.

No laptop in class not only meant I couldn’t type my notes but it also meant I couldn’t have the readings with me on my computer. I’d have to print them out. I envisioned a new stack of readings that would join my stack of readings from last semester, and the semester before that, and before that, and every year of my life stemming back to when I first had to buy paper for class. To add insult to injury, now the computers across campus were tracking my printing, so that every time I had to print a reading for class, I would be reminded about two things: that I was not having my paperless semester I’d envisioned, and that I was compromising my own morals about paper usage.

I’ve come up with two solutions. I bought composition notebooks to use for note taking, since they are 100% recyclable (unlike spiral notebooks you have to deconstruct) and I like them better than loose-leaf paper. My second solution is to not print out my readings. But wait, don’t I need them in class? Yes. I do. But I’ve realized that if I take notes off of the readings on the computer, I have enough information about them to participate in a discussion. If I need to do a more thorough examination of the reading that requires a printed copy, usually someone nearby has brought it with them.

I recognize that my solutions won’t work for everyone. There are people (like my housemate) who simply cannot read off of a screen and need a to read from paper. There are students in creative writing classes who regularly have to print fifteen copies of their short stories for classes. It’s only been two weeks, maybe something will come up where I’ll have to start bringing the readings in hard copy to class. But there has to be a better way than being caught between the hatred of waste and the dislike of electronics. I personally don’t believe that the new papercut system will really cut down on that much paper waste. But making an effort to shift our habits from paper to computer, however irritating and difficult it might be at first, will cut down on the amount we print.