REES Africa
4 min readJun 26, 2023

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Do you Really Need a Hardcopy?

We now live in a digital age where everything seems to be happening on screens. This makes certain practices look obsolete as the changing world tilts towards a faster and more effective way of doing things—technology. Teachers now hold virtual classes and instruct students to submit assignments electronically. Businesses operate via virtual collaboration platforms from diverse locations to achieve a common purpose.

So, are papers now useless?

There are still some undeniable reasons why paper continues to play a crucial role in our lives. Whether it's a legal contract, an employment agreement, or a consent form, the physical act of signing on paper still holds a higher value in most settings. We need papers for the times when we don't have access to electricity or any digital device. This is most common in remote areas or during power outages.

In educational settings, certain exams or assessments may need to be completed on hard copies. We also know that certain official processes require hard copies of documents for various reasons. Paper sometimes provides tangible evidence as in the case of receipts, proof of purchase, and completed service forms as some people believe that digital proofs can easily be falsified. Sometimes having a physical copy just brings us peace of mind.

Since paper is important, why then should we reduce its use?

There is a growing emphasis on reducing paper usage to protect the environment and promote sustainability. Also, despite their long-standing presence, printed paper copies come with a lot of challenges that hinder their effectiveness.

Paper is Expensive
One of the primary challenges of using printed paper copies is the high cost associated with their production. Printed paper copies are costly to produce; printing materials, ink, and maintenance expenses contribute to the overall expenses of businesses. All these expenses can really affect one's budget. As the volume of paper copies increases, so does the expense, making it an unsustainable and expensive option for organizations with large-scale information management needs.

Paper Copies Get Outdated by the Minute

Printed paper copies suffer from a serious setback in an age of rapid information updates. We all know how fast information changes these days. For hard copies, this means that information updates and revisions require the production of new copies. This leads to waste and inefficiency, and it is unsustainable. The inconvenience of updating information on paper limits its relevance and reliability as a current and accurate information source. Let's compare this to its digital counterpart; it's easier to spread new information to billions of people via ads or pop-ups. It is also sustainable, as it costs less.

Paper Takes up Space

Another challenge associated with printed paper copies is the substantial storage space they demand. You need shelves, cabinets, and all that just to store those piles of paper. And if you're dealing with a large organization, you better be prepared to allocate a whole room or two for all those boxes of documents. This problem is particularly prominent in industries that deal with large quantities of paperwork, such as the legal, medical, and educational sectors. Storing and organizing paper copies requires dedicated space, leading to additional expenses and logistical issues.

Paper Copies Can Get Damaged!

We can't forget the risks of loss and damage. Sometimes, accidents happen. Fires, floods, and drink spills—can turn your precious paper copies into a mess in no time. And let's not even get started on misplacing important documents. It's annoying trying to find that one piece of paper in a sea of folders. Trust me, it's like searching for a needle in an ocean.

Tracking info on Paper is not so Easy

Lastly, we have the issue of finding information. Picture this: You need to dig up some specific data from a printed report. You'll have to manually sift through pages, flip them one by one, and pray that you stumble upon the information you're looking for. It's a slow and tedious process that could make even the most patient person lose their cool. Unlike digital formats, which offer search functionality and indexing features, paper copies lack the convenience of quick and precise information retrieval.

Reduce paper, Go Digital

The digital age offers abundant opportunities to reduce paper usage. We all need to embrace digital alternatives for storing and sharing information. Utilizing electronic communication channels such as emails, instant messaging, and video conferences to replace physical correspondence goes a long way toward reducing paper use. We also need to encourage online collaboration tools and document-sharing platforms to reduce the need for printing documents.

Also, a shift towards electronic documentation by implementing electronic signatures, digital invoices, and online forms is necessary to reduce paper use. Instead of printing and mailing documents, use tools like Adobe Sign, DocuSign, or other similar software to streamline paperwork and reduce the need for physical copies. This transition not only saves paper but also improves efficiency and reduces costs.

Embracing digital note-taking solutions like tablets, smartphones, or dedicated note-taking apps such as Evernote, Microsoft OneNote, or Google Keep helps reduce the need for paper. These tools allow you to create, organize, and access notes digitally, reducing the need for physical notebooks. Also, one can opt for online reading platforms, or e-readers, instead of purchasing physical books and magazines. We can also explore options like Kindle, Nook, or various reading apps that allow one to access a vast array of literature electronically. Additionally, we can leverage cloud storage services like Google Drive or Dropbox to store important documents digitally, minimizing the need for physical file cabinets.

The next time you want to use your printer or make any other kind of hardcopy, you need to sincerely ask and respond to the question, 'Do you really need a hardcopy?'

Writer: Temidayo Paul

Photo: istock

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