California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle)

Business Waste Reduction

Measuring the Success of Office Paper Reduction Efforts

Paper is the number one item used and wasted in offices. Making before and after comparisons is at the heart of learning how many resources and how much money you are saving.

Why Measure?

Measuring success provides you with information to help promote your program and find ways to improve it. Top management, shareholders, employees, and customers will learn how your organization is eliminating waste, saving money, and helping the environment.

Activities to Measure

What you measure depends on the paper saving and recycling activities your organization uses. The most common activities are:

  • Reducing images printed or photocopied by use of routing slips, e-mail, electronic faxing, viewing online, current and shorter mailing lists, and reducing print overruns.
  • Increasing the amount of duplex (two-sided) copying and printing.
  • Reducing page sizes or weight.
  • Reusing paper by making scratch pads from paper used only on one side.
  • Conducting employee awareness campaigns.
  • Collecting paper for recycling.
  • Buying recycled paper.

It’s as Easy as One, Two, Three…

The three basic steps to measuring success are:

  1. Establish a baseline—measure "before scenario."
  2. Start the activity you are trying to measure.
  3. Determine impact of change—measure the "after scenario" and make comparisons to baseline.

Baseline Measurement

Baseline measurements are used to gauge success and are extremely important. It is much easier to collect this information before you implement change, rather than trying to find it later!

A baseline may include several months or even years of tracking. The type of information collected depends on what change you are trying to measure and your need for accuracy. Usually there is a trade-off between the degree of accuracy and how much effort it takes to make the measurement. In many cases, a reduction of two or three percentage points could be within the margin of error in measuring waste generation. Compensate by measuring over long time periods (e.g., fiscal year, same month in different years). Methods are discussed below.

After establishing a baseline, implement the change you want to measure, then revisit the numbers. Perhaps you have identified new benefits or problems to track.

Finally, create the "after scenario" and determine the benefits and costs of the change you are measuring.

Types of Measurements

Here are a few types of measurements you may want to consider taking:

  • Paper measurements. Reduction in paper purchased, increase in paper collected for recycling, increase in paper purchased with recycled content, reduction in waste generated.
  • Financial measurements. Savings in purchasing costs, printing costs, postage, handling and transportation costs, disposal costs, total annual savings, payback periods (if equipment purchased). Remember to include any labor costs associated with your program.
  • Customer and employee satisfaction.
  • Reduction in errors and lost records.
  • Storage needs.
  • Amount of resources saved (energy, water, trees, etc.).

Paper Basics

The most common office paper is 20-lb white ledger. Table A has information to help you convert measurements so the information can be reported by the sheet, ream, case, or pound. You will probably just want to measure 20-lb paper, unless your office uses significant amounts of other paper types.

Measuring Paper-Saving Activities

This section is from a draft guide and software on measurement being developed by the U.S. EPA and UCLA. For more information about this guide contact U.S. EPA at (703) 308-7277.

Below are two methods for measuring paper reduction. Use the first one if you want an overall measurement from combined activities. The second method is for measuring paper reduction from duplexing. Do not sum your results from the two methods or you will be double counting!

Table A: White Office Paper Basic: 20-lb paper
  Weight Volume Number of Sheets Cost (dollars)
One (non-metric) ton (2,000 lbs.) 1 ton 4.33 cu yd 200,000 $600 - $1,000
One case (10 reams/case) 50 lb.   5,000 - $25
One ream 5 lb.   500 - $2.5
One sheet .16 oz   1 $.003 - $.005
One foot stack of unused paper     3,000  
Postage for extra ounces of first class mail
$/ounce       $.23
$/ ton     200,000 $7,000
$/extra sheet     1 $.035
Disposal for one ton (assume $25/cu yd)     $110

Method 1: Overall Paper Reduction

This method enables you to measure the impact of your combined paper reduction activities (e.g., duplex copying, electronic mail, electronic reports, policy to allow handwritten corrections, etc.). You can also use the equation that follows to calculate paper conserved through employee education.

To calculate your organization’s overall paper reduction, follow the steps outlined below:

  1. Determine the amount of paper used (company-wide or by department) prior to starting your paper reduction efforts. You can do so by examining paper purchasing records for the previous year. Alternatively, review records of paper distributed to various departments or floors, if available.
  2. Track the amount of paper used after the corporate policy or education efforts. You can do so through purchasing records or by tracking paper use at a paper distribution point over a representative period of time.

Caveats and Assumptions for Method 1. This equation is useful for determining total paper reduction, but cannot account for specific reduction activities.

Method 1:  Overall Paper Reduction

Reduction in tons/year = ( ___________ - ___________ ) ¸ 400 reams/ton

No. of reams used before change - No. of reams used after change


A company kicked off a paper reduction campaign. Employees brainstormed ideas to conserve paper. Management announced its support of these activities. In subsequent months, managers continued to educate employees on the paper reduction policy. To measure results, the purchasing department tracked the amount of white ledger paper purchased per month and compared these figures to paper purchased in the previous year.

From April 1994 to April 1995, the company purchased 210 cases (2,100 reams) of white ledger paper. From May 1995 to May 1996, the company purchased only 197 cases (1,970 reams). Annual paper reduction can be calculated as:

Tons of paper reduced/year
= (2,100 reams - 1,970 reams) ¸ 400 reams/ton
= .33 tons

Method 2: Two-Sided Copying

Photocopying accounts for more than one quarter of all office paper use. In 1990, 1.9 million tons of paper was used in photocopiers in the United States. By increasing two-sided copying to the extent feasible, offices in the United States could save 373,000 tons or about 20 percent of paper used annually. Doing so would result in cost savings (in paper purchase and waste disposal) of $414 million (Source: R.Graff & B. Fishbein, Reducing Office Paper Waste, INFORM (1991)). Additional savings can be realized in reduced filing space required and reduced mailing costs associated with two-sided copying of documents.

To calculate the paper reduction from duplex copying, follow the steps outlined below.

This equation does not account for other factors that may affect waste reduction results. For example, if your level of production increases due to a good business climate, you may generate additional paper even though your company is implementing a number of waste reduction activities. To make more meaningful comparisons, you may want to compare paper usage on a "per employee" or "per dollar sales" basis. Doing so will help you account for changes in productivity.

  1. Obtain the rate of duplex images made.
    This can be obtained from:
    • A duplexing image rate counter, if available. This counter may be inside your machine and not be apparent. Consult your service representative about its availability and ask if they can take readings when they service the machine.
    • Conducting an employee survey. One method involves posting a sheet by the copier to mark the number of double-sided copies made during a certain period. Alternatively, issue a short questionnaire with questions about duplexing.
    • Track the papers loaded into the copier and compare it to the total images made. If a paper contracted service or central copying center is available, it may be able to provide the duplexing image rate for a certain period.
  2. Record the total number of images made by the copier which is available from the counter. This information should be recorded during the same survey period as above.
  3. Record the total reams of paper used for copying per year. This figure may be available from purchasing records or inventory control.
  4. To measure results of a duplexing policy conduct a baseline survey to measure the level of duplexing prior to the policy and a follow-up survey to calculate the waste diversion from implementing the duplexing program.

Caveats and Assumptions for Method 2.

In order to accurately extrapolate paper conserved over one year, you should collect survey data for several months. In addition, be sure that your measurements for paper used include only paper used in the copy machines. White ledger paper may also be used for plain paper fax machines, laser printers, and other uses.

Method 2: Paper Reduction from Two-Sided Copying

Duplexing image rate = (No. of duplex images made)¸ (Total no. of images made)

Reduction in tons/year = [[( Total no. of reams of paper used for copying per year x 5 lbs./ream)

2,000 lbs./ton] x [ duplexing rate from above¸ ( 2 - duplexing rate from above )]]


A company with 29 employees has a copier with a counter. It recorded that 2,544 images were made during a one-week period. In the same time period, employees estimated that 422 copies were doubled-sided. The department estimates it uses approximately 4 - 5 reams of copy paper per week.

The weekly amount has to be converted into years:
= 4.5 reams/week x 52 weeks/year
= 234 reams per year

Annual reduction can be calculated as:
= [ (234 reams x 5 pounds/ream)¸ 2000 pounds/ton ]   x 
[(422 images ¸ 2,544 images) ¸ (2 - (422 images ¸ 2,544 images))]

= 105.8 pounds or .05 tons

Measuring Buy Recycled Activities: the Other Side of Paper

While this fact sheet focuses on ways to measure paper reduction, it is equally important to measure the success of your company’s buy recycled activities.

Reducing paper use, recycling, and buying recycled-content paper are all a part of a holistic waste management system. Experience shows that this is not only what works best for the environment, it saves the most money for your business. The same principles mentioned so far apply: establishing a baseline ("before scenario"), making the wanted change (buying recycled-content products or increasing their purchase), then measuring the impact of the change ("after scenario").

Decide which categories of paper products you want to track, for example, laser/forms bond, book offset and cover stock, envelope grades, newsprint, towel and tissue, corrugated, chipboard, and others. Track annual purchases of all products by weight, annual purchases of recycled-content products by weight, and the percentage of postconsumer material in the recycled-content products purchased.

Don’t underestimate the importance of your buying power and the help you can get from your paper vendor(s) in tracking your progress. It is highly likely that your vendor has computerized records on all sales to your company. If you don’t have an easy, internal method of tracking this information, ask for an annual printout. This puts all your paper purchasing data from each vendor in one place.

If it isn’t obvious at a glance which products contain recycled content, call and ask your vendor’s staff to look it up by product number and description. Make sure, while you’re at it, to note the percentage of recycled content. Remember, some recycled-content products have minimum postconsumer material content requirements to be considered a qualified recycled-content product. Another way to do this is to make these notes as you purchase (stock numbers, description, and percentage of recycled content.) Then the annual summary can be translated into recycled-content purchasing statistics according to your ready-made reference.

Last but not least, do evaluate your RCP purchases regularly. Like any other products, some RCPs do the job better than others. Consider efficiencies, and remember that reducing paper use is your top priority toward the goal of creating a cost-effective, integrated waste management system. The quality of RCPs and the practice of buying recycled are not served in the long run unless we identify the few bad apples and reward manufacturers who make high-quality products from postconsumer materials.

Tracking your progress in the all-important area of purchasing—the linchpin that holds together the entire recycling system—it helps justify your part in making recycling work. It also helps reinforce that RCPs have become reputable, reliable products, in spite of the early problems and understandable misgivings organizations had with them. While premiums to purchase recycled paper are dwindling in most product categories, this integrated approach to measuring your recycling activities will easily show that the overall system saves money.

As more companies buy recycled, they contribute to the demand for these products and help bring down the prices, so that premiums will truly become a thing of the past.

Publication #441-97-023

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Last updated: August 21, 2012
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