Skyline High School slashes paper use 60 percent

May 17, 2011

By Christopher Huber

On average, Skyline High School uses roughly 50,000 sheets of paper per week — enough to stack 16 1/2 feet high. That translates into uprooting about six average-sized trees.

But for a week last month, the school tried something different — the school’s printers and copiers were largely silent, as staff members attempted to address large-scale paper use and go “paperless.”

During the week of April 18-22, Skyline used about 20,000 sheets, a 60 percent reduction from a typical school week, said the effort’s organizer, Librarian Elisabeth Bacon.

“It was a challenge, of course,” Library Assistant Kathi Eide said, “But it was cool.”

After the “paperless” week ended, Bacon looked at how much the school had used and said she didn’t think the school was really saving much paper.

Her pessimism was a little off, however. She monitored staff computer IP addresses to measure the use another week and saw paper use jump back up.

“I did not think it was (a success), but staff did,” Bacon said.

She said she got the idea to attempt a “paperless” week at a technology committee meeting. It was pretty simple: Because their goal is to get people to use the technology available at school, why not save paper in the process?

Bacon said Skyline is now looking at how to sustain the concept throughout a school year. Staff members are looking at how to adopt more “paperless” practices into everyday activities. The district will offer technology training before next fall, she said. And it is looking at a new language arts curriculum, which provides paperless excerpts for in-class teaching.

“Sometimes, if you don’t force people to do something, they don’t really change,” Bacon said. “I know that some people are thinking about things differently.”

Ultimately, the survey she conducted after the “paperless” week showed students and staff members significantly reduced their paper use and considered the effort successful.

Teachers have since approached her and told her how they changed their printing and copying habits. While many teachers will copy a handout for each of their 130 students, some have reconsidered how they present concepts, ideas and assignments in class, history teacher Connie Heldt said.

Given the constant integration of technology into everyday use for work in class and at home, teachers like Heldt were able to use PowerPoint or other programs to avoid printing handouts. They could also post assignment documents to their class website for students to download at home or use a document camera to display one sheet of paper onscreen.

Heldt said she never used to think about running off whatever copies she needed, but the paperless week has made her re-examine that practice.

“I think making copies was the most convenient path,” said Heldt, who has taught at Skyline since it opened in 1997. “Paperless week changed me. I kind of grumbled about it at first. But I wasn’t giving a test, so it was not as bad.”

She noticed her history students didn’t complain about the printers being turned off or their assignments being online. During the month before, fliers hung on the walls throughout the school announcing “paperless” week.

“They accepted it because I think they knew it was coming,” Heldt said.

The nature of the week also created a spirit of competition among teachers, so those who took the effort more seriously kept “heavy users” accountable, she said.

“I think people were already deciding whether or not they’re going to go all in. Teachers, by nature, are very competitive, so when we saw who was making all the copies … they kept the competition going to do less use,” she said.

Nicole Min, a junior, said she mostly prints assignments at home and was not negatively affected by library printers being turned off. To her, the week of saving paper was worth it, especially since it got people thinking about how to reduce their everyday reliance on gobs of paper. She said some of her teachers had students submit papers or nightly assignments to She did notice less paper being handed out in class, and her math teacher used her class website more that week.

“I don’t think it was a bad thing,” Min said. “It wouldn’t be bad to have it again.”

Christopher Huber: 392-6434, ext. 242, or Comment at

Skyline High School shuns paper

In one month, the Issaquah School District uses enough paper to make a stack 833 feet tall. It would be the second-tallest object in Seattle, taller than the Space Needle and second to Columbia Center.

By the numbers

  • 22.8 million — sheets of white, 8 1/2-by-11 photocopy paper used by the Issaquah School District in the 2009-10 school year
  • 2.25 million — sheets of paper used per month in the Issaquah School District
  • 833 — height, in feet, of 2.25 million sheets of paper
  • 270 — number of trees needed to make 2.25 million sheets of paper, assuming there is no recycled material
  • $134,475 — spent on paper in the 2009-10 school year (including sales tax)
  • $13,027.50 — spent on paper per month in the Issaquah School District
  • $1,120 — spent on paper at Skyline High School per month
  • 175,000-225,000 — sheets of paper used at Skyline per month
  • 50,000 — sheets of paper, on average, used at Skyline in a week
  • 16.5 — height, in feet, of 50,000 sheets of paper
  • 420,000 — estimated number of sheets of paper used during paperless week

No recycled paper?

When considering the purchase of supplies, such as paper, Washington state law requires school districts to purchase products from the “lowest responsible bidder.”

Recycled paper costs more than unrecycled paper. Thus, the Issaquah School District has no choice but to use so-called virgin paper.

According to Conservatree, a San Francisco-based group that advocates on behalf of environmentally friendly paper products, the reasons are varied. In some cases, the added cost of removing ink from used paper can drive up the cost of turning it into the pulp used to make paper. Another factor is that the industry has a more efficient, and less costly, model for bringing in a new tree to pulp than it does collecting, sorting and de-inking recycled paper. Also, many paper companies make their own virgin pulp but purchase recycled pulp on the market. Using in-house virgin pulp essentially cuts out a middle-man and keeps manufacturing costs down.

Those extra few dollars per ream of paper can add up, since the district buys paper by the truckload (840 cases/8,400 reams/4.2 million sheets), at $27.16 per case.

The district estimates it saves approximately $40,000 per school year by not purchasing recycled paper.

In an effort to conserve paper, the school district has some policies in place to help reduce paper use. Staff members are encouraged to make double-sided copies, not print emails and to scan documents into electronic format to email them. The district also does not mail lunch menus or employee paycheck stubs (they’re available on an online database), and employee insurance and benefit information is now sent electronically with links to websites.

Sources: Issaquah School District, Conservatree

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