Editor’s Notes: Enough Mail-Bashing!
The other day, I reached into my fridge to grab a single-serving container of Stonyfield Farm peach yogurt and came face-to-lid with the following message: "Junk mail trashes our planet." Accompanying this copy was an image of a mailbox bending over to purge itself of the so-called offensive direct mail efforts (strangely enough, most of the pieces looked like First Class mail). At first impression this struck me as funny, because the decline in direct mail spending actually has made mailboxes pretty light on what Stonyfield calls trash.
But the smear campaign on how direct mail affects the environment is no laughing matter. This yogurt lid claimed that direct mail's end of life is as trash for the landfill, rather than recyclable material for conversion into new paper products. But U.S. consumers are in disagreement with this viewpoint, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, to the tune of a 24 percent increase in direct mail recycling during the past eight years; 40.7 percent of all Standard mail today is reclaimed. For the same time period, the percentage of direct mail in landfills was flat, at a little more than 2 percent. When the EPA publishes it latest findings this year, I have no doubt that percentage will drop, and the rate of recycling should continue to increase.
Putting aside the fact that I couldn't recycle my yogurt cup—neither my residential nor work recycling programs accept No. 5 resins—I took Stonyfield up on its offer to learn more about saving the planet from junk mail by visiting the company's Web site. I typed in the URL and proceeded to spend more time than I anticipated searching for the promised information, an act that consumed greenhouse gas-producing energy while my computer ran and servers processed my numerous requests. A new lid apparently had been released, and so it had top billing on the site, resulting in my hunting around, hitting a "page not found" dead end and finally scoring with a carefully worded site search.
The information on how to keep my "mailbox free of junk" came courtesy of a link to an organization called Eco-Cycle, which doesn't seem to have updated its content on this subject in a few years. Some of its assertions about direct mail were not totally accurate, but its tips for how to reduce unwanted mail definitely would help citizens of a mind to do so.
The bottom line for me is the knee-jerk reaction that direct mail is an automatic environmental foe while the Internet is a green giant. I understand it's tough to educate consumers on the nuances of what truly causes greenhouse gas emissions—and the steps we can take to improve in all product categories—but it's dangerous to foster the impression that all our mobile phones, computers, gaming devices, etc., and the energy it takes to power and serve them have less environmental impact than paper.
Let's stop the attacks and work on truly sustainable solutions together.