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Paperless Society

We live in a world where paper has formed such an integral part of our lives that it may be hard to imagine a world without paper. The use of paper is so commonplace that most people have never considered the all important question, “do we need so much paper in the world”?

One imagines that an attempt to curb the use of paper, especially in our places of work, would have very slow and unsatisfactory results. The truth of the matter is that no civilised government would attempt to outlaw the use of paper. That would be a ludicrous law which may actually cost the government more than it is worth. However, government partnering with the business society can adopt policy measures which could result in limited use of paper.

There are many instances where paper is used more than is necessary. For instance, in many African countries you cannot buy a weekly or monthly bus ticket, even if you travel such bus route every day. The consequence thereto is that in a four week period one may end up collecting anything from 40 to 56 tickets. This could be mitigated by the use of weekly or monthly tickets. The same applies with the sale of lottery tickets, electricity vouchers, and mobile minutes (known as airtime in Swaziland), it is not necessary to sell vouchers printed on paper to every customer anymore. Technology allows us to transfer data from a machine directly to a cellular phone (which many people own), without having to use paper.

One must acknowledge and perhaps even congratulate business in Swaziland for enthusiastically buying into the print-only-if-necessary corporate policy. Many emails from corporate bodies now bear the environmental awareness message advising the recipient(s) to refrain from printing the email and/attachments unless absolutely necessary. More can be done though, the paper trail that still plagues inter alia the way we do banking, file our tax returns, submit business proposals, and submit job applications must be given due consideration and reform must happen.

Technology costs the environment a great deal in e-waste, but it would be unreasonable to deny the many benefits of technology. One such benefit is that it negates the need for paper in many instances. Would it not benefit our environment to exploit technology to the fullest in this regard?

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