The COVID-19 pandemic across the globe has led to significant changes in the way that classes are taught and students learn, if only for a short period of time.
However, these changes have re-ignited a debate around progress to make education increasingly paperless in the UK.
An important part of this is making sure that any paper that is used in universities is recycled so it does not contribute to waste.
According to the University of Manchester, approximately 70% of office waste is recyclable and the use of double-sided printing saves energy and paper costs by up to 75%.
This means that for a growing number of institutions, making education increasingly paperless is important not only for the environment but also for saving money that could be spent elsewhere.
How much is this an issue?
The use of paper at universities is a long-standing issue and has been a focus of concern for environmentalists for many years.
Recent research has shown that universities’ paper consumption is often wasteful and is causing increasing costs for institutions.
Plus, it is thought that schools use an average of 1,000 sheets of paper per pupil per year. Imagine how much more that could be for university students studying subjects with lots of reading or administration!
How are universities adapting to online teaching?
The majority of universities in the UK have moved all teaching online, as it is a requirement during the government-enforced national lockdown.
It looks as though face-to-face teaching could be suspended for many students until the end of the academic year, although there is still some confusion surrounding this. This could mean that the burden of paying for printing and paper costs falls to students.
Although the majority of courses have required all resources and all marked work be submitted online, many students may require photocopies of journals and books to study. This could disproportionately affect those in the arts, humanities and social sciences.
Who is pushing for paperless education?
The desire to make higher education paperless has received traction in the last year, but has been campaigned for by environmentalists and students for many years.
With a growing international awareness of the cost of waste on the planet’s environment the pressure is now on to reduce the carbon footprint of universities.
Many large campaign and pressure groups across the UK are urging universities to become more sustainable for the future of our planet. These include The Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education and Unite Students.
Is it obtainable?
With substantial pressure from students, students’ unions, governments, charities and the press, universities are slowly but definitively making the move to being more environmentally-friendly. This includes reducing paper wastage and making the move to paperless education.
Many UK universities are also being ranked by their efforts to be more environmentally friendly, with The University of Bristol, Manchester Metropolitan University and Keele University often ranking highly.
Check out our article here on whether COVID is giving freshers’ week a chance to go green.