How Much Paper Do Schools Consume?

Man using photocopier machine at school


Worksheets, books, copy paper, letters to parents – paper consumption at German schools is immense. A counter-proposal has recently been provided by so-called tablet classes and parental mail by e-mail. “I’ve reduced my paper consumption by 90 percent,” says a teacher after two years at a pilot tablet school.

Germany consumes as much paper as the continents of Africa and South America combined, namely 18 million tons per year. Converted to the population, this is about 250 kilograms of paper per person per year. Schools account for a not inconsiderable proportion of this number. After all, there are about 47,000 general education schools in Germany, i.e. 47,000 books, worksheets, letters to parents, and copy paper. Taken together, these are mountains, even if we Germans are at the forefront of the global league of waste paper collectors.

Per capita consumption of paper has risen steadily since the 1950s. Now it is experiencing stagnation – at least in schools – thanks to modern technology. While 15 years ago the copier in the teachers’ room was often hotly contested that they need a copier service to maintain the machines, today much is done via electronic media.

Tablet instead of a notebook, e-mail instead of a letter to parents

For example, parent communication: In the past, several times a month, all students in a class were provided with copied information sheets about the planned class trip or the new school project by the teacher, with the order to hand over the papers to the parents at home. Today, many schools work for such information with electronic class letters via e-mail. Only particularly important information is carried home in the satchel, for example, because a signature from the parents is required. Of course, there are big differences from school to school in this respect. Certainly, one or the other teaching staff still handles the copy question today in the same way as ten years ago, while other schools already work predominantly with e-mail distribution lists.

Still, other schools go much further. They have not only abolished the letter to parents on paper, but also the worksheet. They are increasingly incorporating modern technology and using computer media for teaching. So-called e-learning or digital learning is becoming more and more widespread. Schools are upgrading for digital learning or e-learning: better and more Internet connections in the classroom, tablets in the school desks, and digital all-rounders behind the desk. Children and young people should practice using modern media and digital technologies at an early age in order to be better prepared for their future in the world of life and work 2.0.

Teacher reduces paper consumption by 90 percent

An example of a pioneering school in terms of e-learning is the Waldschule in Hatten, Lower Saxony. The first tablet classes were set up here in 2012, in which the students do not sit in class with paper, pen, notebook, and book but with a tablet computer. It is obvious that the school has used noticeably less copy paper since then than it did five years ago. “I have reduced my paper consumption by 90 percent in recent years, except for class tests, I no longer distribute paper,” says teacher Andreas Hofmann in a Schulspiegel interview.

Yearbook and graduate newspaper are still on the shelf

Even if the Hattener school is currently still the exception, a development away from copied worksheets and letters to parents remains to be assumed for the next few years. Does this mean that the school of the future can do without paper at all? This is not to be assumed. Because while the form of communication – whether electronic or postal – is not important, for example in the case of parents’ letters, there are things that nobody wants to do without in printed form.

The annual report including class photos on glossy paper, for example, is such a thing. Of course, school newspaper, yearbook, graduate newspaper or similar could also be “issued” to the students as an e-book. But it is and remains something else whether the mother shows her children the yearbook of her school days as a beautifully designed and attractively bound book or as a swipe reading on the tablet.

Paper is something valuable and is perceived as valuable. All the more so when in everyday life the simple letter to parents and the copied worksheet are replaced by their electronic cousins.

Even in the printing sector, the new media have apparently become indispensable: a large part of school newspapers, yearbooks, and brochures are now ordered online. Schools are no different in these matters than “normal” companies. And they have long been happy to use the entire range of offers from online print shops as they are all called, they have their company brochures and business cards printed by them as well as posters and other advertising material. The majority of schools also order their yearbooks on the Internet. Whether as a ring binder, with perfect binding, staple stitching, or wire-o binding – there are hardly any limits to the creativity of students and teachers, thanks to the Internet and online print shops.