Reducing Paper Waste at Davidson

College students use an average of 320 pounds of paper every year.[1] Class notes, campus fliers, research papers and exams all contribute, but the largest use of student paper use at Davidson College is from printing readings and articles for class. With all of the technology utilized by Davidson College students, this source of paper use can be drastically reduced. There are also options that do not require technology use.

Davidson College has taken enormous strides in conservation efforts. One area where these efforts can be improved is in paper use. With free printing at Davidson College, students and staff print hundreds of pages a It is not enough to simply recycle class readings; many of which may have never been read or have only been read through once. Recycling still uses more energy than preventing waste generation in the first place, and requiring less paper saves more money and more trees than recycling alone.


Recommendation Options


  1. Do nothing/maintain status quo.
  2. Require students to access readings online.
  3. Require professors to hold class sets of articles that are to be reused each time the course is taught.
  4. Charge students for printing over a certain number of pages to encourage electronic access, double-sided printing, and more words per page printing.
  5. Do not allow fliers to be placed in student mailboxes, and limit student advertisement to 50 total fliers to encourage increased advertisement over social media and college sites.


Explanation and Analysis


Do Nothing

This option involves maintaining the current cycle of over-printing and recycling. There would be no change in paper costs for the college due to no change in the paper demand of the students. The increasing focus on sustainability puts stress on the college administration to decrease paper waste, decreasing the viability of this option in the long run.


Online Readings

This option involves requiring students to access all readings online. Enforcing this requirement would be difficult both politically and administratively. Many students prefer to read and write on paper article copies, affecting the overall social cost, yet if students were required to access their readings online, over time they would adjust, decreasing the overall social cost.[2] Another argument would be that some professors do not allow laptops in class, increasing the social cost. Eliminating printed articles and other class readings would have high environmental benefits due to reducing paper use, which in turn contributes to high economic benefits due to decreasing paper demand, and decreasing paper costs for the college.


Class Set of Articles to be Reused

This option requires professors to hold class sets of articles to be reused each time the course is taught. One counter-argument to this option is that the same professors do not always teach the same course. The solution to this would be to have an archive for all class sets of documents to be used by any professor requiring the reading. This option is more politically feasible than the previous option, as well as much more administratively feasible. The social benefits are high, with students having access to paper readings and professors being able to prohibit laptop use in class. Reusing articles has high environmental benefits, leading to high economic benefits as well due to the overall decrease in paper use per student.


Charge Students for Printing Over a Certain Number of Pages

This option encourages electronic reading access and double-sided printing. It would encourage students to prioritize printing instead of arbitrarily printing everything. Free printing is one of the many perks of Davidson College students, which is why charging for all printing would not be very politically or administratively feasible. Creating a threshold for charging for printing would combat these high costs. If students were limited to 15 free pages of printing per day, the social costs would be low, the environmental benefits would be high, and the economic costs would be low.


Limit Flier Use

This option prohibits fliers from being placed in student mailboxes and limits student advertisement to 50 total fliers. This will encourage increased reliance on electronic advertisement on social media and college sites. Due to the high prevalence of social media use, a large population of the student body will continue to be exposed to advertisements. It will also encourage strategic placement of fliers, reducing over-crowding of fliers, which will lead to increased student attention. Eliminating fliers from student mailboxes will drastically decrease the amount of wasted paper. Overall, limiting flier use will have high environmental benefits and low economic costs.



Criteria Do Nothing/ Status Quo Online Readings Class Sets of Articles to be reused Charge Students for printing over a certain number of pages Limit flier use Criteria Weight
Political Feasibility 2 1 2 1 1 0.125
Administrative Feasibility 2 1 3 3 3 0.125
Social Cost and Benefits 1 2 3 2 2 0.250
Environmental Costs and Benefits 1 3 2 3 3 0.250
Economic Costs and Benefits 1 3 2 3 3 0.250
Option Score 1.4 2 2.4 2.4 2.6 1.000
Option Score (Weighted) 1.25 2.25 2.375 2.5 2.5


Due to the option scores, I recommend a combination of implementing a charge for students printing over 15 pages per day and a limit to flier use. This will provide the greatest social and economic benefit to Davidson College and provide for high environmental benefits. Doing nothing is the worst option for the college, especially due to sustainability being an increasingly important aspect of Davidson College life.



In order to continue to take strides in conservation efforts, Davidson College needs to reduce the amount of paper waste at the source. Providing incentive for students to consider alternative options for printing both fliers and articles will decrease Davidson’s environmental impacts and generate savings for the college.

[1] Our Waste. Green-Network. at


[2] The Reading Brain in the Digital Age: The Science of Paper vs. Screens. Scientific American (2013). at


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