Reflect on how much paper waste you generate in a single day at work.

It may actually not be much! With EMR’s, smartphones, e-mail and technology taking over our practice.

For me, I can probably cut down on post-it notes. Paper towels when I use the bathroom. One major area I think that may have an impact is educational materials. If often print off pages and pages of the OT Toolkit for my clients. Most likely, these are not even read. What alternatives can you think of?

You may consider trying e-mailing educational materials to your client. Most of them are already on their phones anyways.

But wait…

Now with copyright material, e-mailing them “as is” may violate some of these terms. It was not like in school when our teachers shared these materials for educational purposes. You may not know if the patient may forward the files to other people, leading you to get in trouble. You definitely do not want to redistribute copyrighted material. For example, the watermark for OT Toolkit is tied to my name and e-mail.

• The Agreement permits the Licensee to print paper copies from the Occupational Therapy Toolkit eBook, the handouts and treatment guides for the Licensee’s patients/clients only. The Occupational Therapy Toolkit header, the name of the Licensee in the footer, and copyright information must be retained on each page. 
 
• The Agreement restricts the Licensee from duplicating, reproducing, transferring or conveying the Occupational Therapy Toolkit eBook or any rights to anyone else.

I have reached out to Cheryl of the Toolkit series and will post my response here.

UPDATE
Cheryl has responded and in her particular use case, she is okay with sharing a few pages digitally! If you regularly use one or two specific resources, check with your specific author or publisher if you can digitally share their content.

In the meantime, what can you do at work? You are welcome and can certainly send links to free resources from reputable sources or blogs like OTDUDE.com.

But also, consider other mediums of education. Try forwarding a youtube link, a podcast, make a recording. Maybe you can create your own original files locally and e-mail them to clients. Video record a demonstration on a smartphone (with consent of course). Digital or virtual methods would cut down on the paper waste footprint.

Get “OT creative”!

But Is Electronic All Good Right?

Not necessarily, either. Main concern is e-waste. WFOT put it very nicely,

“Use of information technology can lead to increased efficiency so that the input per
unit product is reduced, leading to less impact of goods production on the environment. On the other hand, the relatively short life of technological devices such as computers and lack of component serviceability means that occupations dependent on computerised hardware (such as documentation during therapy, electronic communication during work and for leisure, etc.) are contributing to widespread dumping of equipment as waste. It is often more expensive and complex to repair than to replace such equipment.

In addition, a modern social culture of consumerism that is promoted by the current economic actors does not provide incentives for repairing equipment rather than throwing them away. Sometimes, we even throw away devices (such as mobile phones) when they are perfectly operational so as to acquire the latest models as advertisements encourage us to do. These electronic gadgets are made of components that can be recycled but are dangerous to handle and too hazardous for landfills. This toxic junk is transported across the world in bulk to the less developed countries in the world such as Africa and Asia where labour to handle the waste is cheaper and safety standards
and environmental regulation are less stringent. In those parts of the world, recycling is carried out by subsistence level workers without industrial protection. The workers use techniques such as burning off plastic in open fires in order to extract usable raw materials, which contributes to accumulation of impurities in the atmosphere.

In other words, occupations related to consumption in one part of the world (e.g. phone and computer use in the West) affects not only the planetary environment but also
the health of people in another part of the world far away, which once again has ethical implications.”

What Can We Do?

As consumers, avoid upgrading devices every year. Choose companies that are more environmentally responsible. I am not talking about Apple either. Their devices are becoming less upgradeable and user-serviceable. If you own your own business, look into repairing your devices instead of replacing them. Now here’s a business idea, the production of electronics that intended to be recyclable and serviceable by the customer. That is the responsible thing for electronic companies to do. Now computers are just 1s and 0s, but we have come so far in technology computing power. Unfortunately, it will be hard to go back to slower processing speeds at the expense of being more green. Computers generate a lot of heat, use a lot of energy to power, and need a lot of cooling systems (which in turn consume more energy).

Conflicted yet? So am I. I do not have the solution. Interestingly, one positive trend of technology advancement (at least for consumers) is smaller form factor from large computer desktops to handheld devices such as smartphones of today. So theoretically, we should be producing less waste, but at the same time, it is becoming more accessible, requiring…more waste.

At my hospital, we try to service our wheelchairs and other DME and get the most life out of them. Why not the same for our mice, keyboards, etc.? I am not recommending that you do this, as some materials can be toxic and there are risks of harm because companies are not focusing on repair / end of life of their products.

TL;DR – don’t buy the latest and greatest shiny Smartphone. Think of ways to repurpose your old smartphone. As for a “greener way” of recycling it, we do not have a great solution.