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OP-ED: Going paperless. Possible?

  • Published at 10:46 am September 5th, 2020
web- Elections not contributing enough to the paper business
Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Digitalization makes it possible to drastically reduce our paper usage

Let me give you three scenarios.

Scenario one: If there are 50,000 ready-made garment stores in Bangladesh and 10 customers are buying something from those stores every day, that makes 500,000 customers. The store-keepers pack the products in either paper-bags or poly-bags. That means the sellers are giving out 500,000 bags every day.

Now if those 500,000 bags are made of trees, how many trees did we have to destroy in order to manufacture those bags? Question one.

Scenario two: Consider there are 50,000 grocery stores who would give you paper-made receipts or invoices when you buy something from them. If one shop has 20 customers every day, the 50,000 stores give out 1,000,000 paper receipts.

Now, how many trees do we have to use in order to make those 1,000,000 receipts? Question number two.

Scenario three: Consider there are 50,000 Bangladeshis in our country who shop with their debit cards that they received from their banks. When we punch our card in a POS machine, it provides two receipts -- one for the customer and one for the merchant. At the same time, we also receive an SMS on our phones of the same receipt. If a store serves 100 customers every day, the number of customers stand at half a million.

Now, how many trees do we have to cut to make half a million receipts?

The reason I am citing these scenarios is to show all of you the amount of paper that we use and waste in our daily life. Kindly note that in an era of digitization and digitalization, wasting paper, and for that matter, the trees, sounds like a crime. 

We have been talking about the environment and how digital technologies would help save the climate and all that.

If we are so advanced in technology, why, then, can we not discover a technology whereby each and every one on Earth receives their shopping receipts on their mobile phones through SMS?

I was reading some news articles on how we could benefit from saving paper. An estimate says up to 50% of business waste is paper. So, if we could reduce our dependence on paper-based documentation, we would surely make an impact on the local landfill.

Take another estimate. About 10 litres of water are needed to manufacture one sheet of A4-size paper. Just think of it. Now, as office workers, how many sheets of paper do we deal with annually while performing our tasks? In America, an office worker goes through 10,000 sheets of paper annually. Those 10,000 have a cost; don’t they? With those 10,000, they also need ink cartridges for the printers.

Over the last five months, most of us have worked from home. During those months, how many sheets of paper did we have to go through? For me, not a single sheet. We did all checking and signing on email or on other digital platforms. We also gave all our approvals digitally. So, now we know that we actually don’t need all that paper for our work.

In this age, it’s very much possible to store all our documents digitally in the cloud. There are many online storage sites such as Google Drive and Dropbox. It’s now possible to share all kinds files with customers as well as employees in a much more secured way.

Our business meetings can go paperless by avoiding printing the presentations that we use during the meetings. One of the easiest ways to go paperless in offices is by shifting to electronic communication. Email is faster than sending letters and we can get faster responses from the recipients. At the same time, we have a copy of all communication on our computer. We now have many instant massaging platforms in place.

In many countries, people have started using electronic signatures for credit card transactions through their POS system. E-signatures can be legally binding which will allow us and our customers to review and sign documents anywhere. This would also ensure physical distance.

The objective for going paperless is to save trees and the environment. Reducing our dependence on paper could be a unique way to do that. In fact, going paperless has now become an imperative for us and for the entire country.

We know that we may not be able to go for a 100% paperless society. Books will remain, newspapers will remain, and many other things will remain. But there are hundreds of things we can list down, and do something about it. For example, if we formulate a law for the shop-keepers to charge Tk10 for a shopping bag, I strongly believe that customers will be less interested to take the bag. 

In fact, all customers should be encouraged to carry their own cloth-made bags while shopping. At the same time, if we charge Tk2 for a receipt at an ATM booth, most of the people will be discouraged to take that piece of paper.

This is the time for innovation. Unless we contemplate and find solutions for a sustainable present and safer future with sincerity, the resources on Earth will run dry very soon. And that could be the death of the human race. 

Ekram Kabir is a yogi, a story-teller, and a communications professional. His other works can be found on ekramkabir.com.

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