It may surprise many of you to learn that the number one thing heading into our landfills on a daily basis here in the United States is paper. Thatís right, plain old paper. Something that is easy to recycle, but instead ends up sitting out eternity in the middle of some garbage tomb, where 50 years from now it will still be completely legible.
Doesnít make sense, does it?
Now I donít work in an office so I canít really speak firsthand to the issue of trimming paper use in an office environment. The first obvious conclusion would be to make sure that ALL paper goes into a recycling bin and that NONE of it heads to the trash. Try printing on both sides of a page, sending electronic documents as much as possible, and using recycled paper to print on in the first place, and youíll make a big dent in the problem.
What I can speak to though, as I know many of you can, is how much paper is ďconsumedĒ by a household. Any given household is going to have its share of paper products–bills, receipts, newspapers, and lists of things that your husband hasnít gotten to yet (Iím getting to them, I promise). But the toughest thing that I find most folks have to deal with is junk mail. The average American will receive 41 pounds of junk mail this year. Thatís roughly 12 billion pounds of paper, of which only 10 percent on average will be recycled, leaving more than 10 billion pounds of junk mail entering our nations landfills every year.
Itís really quite shocking when you look at the numbers. And whatís worse is that most of this is stuff that we donít even want to begin with. We donít ask for it, find it a nuisance to deal with, and at worst, end up buying the products they offer, which we didnít realize we ďneededĒ in the first place, thus adding to the whole waste/consumption stream. Add to that the wasted fuel, trees and time, and itís just plain crazy.
So Iím putting it out there that itís time this stopped. And hereís how to do it easily.
Through the course of my little garbage experiment (www.365daysoftrash.com), I have been trying to eradicate junk mail and have been successful to the point that many days I receive no mail whatsoever. Howíd I do it? Well for starters, I used Greendimes, a junk mail service that will help you stop all of those catalogs, mailings, credit card offers and sweepstakes winnings.
Now lest you think that Iím in cahoots with them (I am not) and trying to cash in on all of this (can I?), take a look at what they offer. You can opt for them to pay you a dollar (thatís right, they pay you) and theyíll tell you who to contact and how often you should contact them so you can do the work yourself. Youíll earn a buck, but will need to put in a bit of time as well. Or you can pay them $20, they will take care of everything for you, and plant five trees on your behalf to boot. This is what originally drew me in because I figured $20 for five trees, Iím cool with that even if it doesnít stop my mail.
Once youíve gotten things up and running, either on your own or having them do everything, itíll take 6-8 weeks before things slow down. If youíre like me, itíll burn you that you need to actively do something to stop unwanted mail from coming into your house, so make sure to sign their No Mail List Petition while youíre at it.
For those of you who want to go your own route, or want to further tackle the mail problem, here are a few other tips to try.
ē Privacy Rights has a great do-it-yourself list for stopping junk mail thatís worth checking out.
ē For non-profits, e-mail or call them and tell them youíve decided not to support organizations that send you paper mail but will gladly take e-mail solicitations, and make sure to give them your e-mail address. They really appreciate this and will respond quickly as it saves them money.
ē If you are comfortable with online bill pay, check into it with your credit card companies and billing agencies. Itís easy, safe and paperless.
ē Write ďplease do not rent, sell, or trade my name or addressĒ on warranties, mail-ins, subscriptions, or customer information cards. Filling these out voluntarily gives the companies the right to share your info unless you tell them not to.
ē Phone books are little bit tougher, but here are some tips for getting rid of them.
If all else fails, look for the phone number on a piece of junk mail and call them or write the president of the company. Calmly explain that you would like to be taken off their mailing list and/or put on their do-not-mail list, and say that they are wasting money by contacting you as you have no interest in supporting organizations that send unsolicited mail. More often than not, itíll stop. And finally, make the decision that whatever paper does leave your house will do so in the recycle bin, and take the pledge to never throw paper in the garbage again.
If anyone has any other tips or ideas on how to stop the paper beast here in the U.S. or around the globe, please feel free to post them.
Dave Chameides is an environmental educator and freelance filmmaker. He writes alternative fuel articles for Edmunds.com and maintains the blogs 365 Days of Trash and Achieving Sustainability. While he is presently saving all of his trash for a year to better understand his environmental impact, his main focus is sustainability through education and believes that with knowledge all things are possible.