Dirty paper at Western

Have you ever thought about how much paper you use taking notes and studying at uni?  Despite living in the digital age, many students still use sheets of paper or paper notebooks instead of taking notes on laptops, while others print a copy of each lecture slide. It may not seem like a big deal, but with over 41,000 students enrolled at Western Sydney University alone, the impact is substantial.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, paper mills pollute the air and water with toxic chemicals including formaldehydehydrochloric acid, toluene, chlorine dioxide, and methanol, not to mention the 24 trees11,134 kWh hours of electricity (more than the average Australian household uses in a year), and 72,206 litres of water (the amount an average Australian household uses in 80 days)  it takes to make 1 ton of paper, plus the CO2 emissions during transport.  

Note-taking the old fashioned way is contributing to climate change, loss of biodiversity, and pollution, all of which directly impact you even if you aren’t interested in the environment and sustainability.  For example, climate change alters growing seasons and negatively impacts pollination for many crops, leading to less yield and  higher food prices. Loss of biodiversity also reduces plant production and yield, but also decreases water quality, again affecting your bank balance.  Air pollution can cause asthma, and even lung cancer.

Don’t despair, there is an alternative: taking notes on a laptop, iPad, or Surface Pro. It can seem daunting not being able to flip through a spiral notebook, or binder to find the particular notes you’re looking for, but if done correctly, finding specific notes and sections of notes can be even easier on a device.  Firstly, don’t use Word or Google Docs for note-taking.  While they would both work, they are not the most effective and easy method.  

Note-taking programs and apps such as One Note are easy to use, and allow you to store notes for each subject in separate “notebooks” where additional sections can be added. One section can be for tutorials, with each tutorial on a different labelled page in the section, while lectures could be a different section of the same notebook, with each lecture on an individual, labelled, easy-to-find  page.

Lecture slides can be printed straight onto a specified page, where you can add handwritten (if device is touch screen) and/or typed notes directly on or to the side of the slides. Content is also searchable, meaning if you’re taking an open book online quiz, you can use keywords to search your notes either on one page, or through all of your notebooks at once, finding the answer far quicker than if you had to rifle through physical notebooks.  Links can be embedded directly into notes, images added, and if you need to draw a diagram in your notes, you can do that too.  There are plenty of how to videos on YouTube to show you all the tips and tricks of note taking programs.

Welcome to the digital age, where digital note taking is easier and less harmful to the environment, and indirectly, your bank balance.

 By Sheri Thomson


About Abigail Nash

Abigail Nash is a science student at Western. She has a Master in Creative Writing from The University of Sydney. She completed an undergraduate degree at Western Sydney University in education. She loves political satire and comedy.
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