Monday, January 29, 2007

Paper Footprint - Reduce it and save Forests

Last year alone, as per my approximation, I may have gotten about 350 lb (159 kg) of marketing bulk mail from USPS. As per the 2000 census there were 105,480,101 households in the United States. This means that there was at least 36,918,035,350 lb (36 billion) of marketing material, called junk otherwise, generated across the nation in just one year.
Paper Addiction
To give you an idea of what that means - it takes 24 trees (40 feet tall and 6-8 inches in diameter) to produce one (1) ton of writing/office/print paper. Saving you the pains of calculations this translates to about 443,949,606 trees being clipped every year so that someone can print a promotion with a few pretty pictures only to be thrown in the trash can by you. Assuming that each of these trees is planted 6 feet apart to be able to grow 40 feet and 6-8 inches in diameter this means a forest area of about 3,995,546,454 sq. feet or about 371,198,412 square meters, which is a land area of about 12 miles by 12 miles.
At this rate, an area of the size of Yosemite National Park can be wiped out in 8 years and the state of Rhode Island in just 7.
Friends, this is what you junk mail can do to forests. Let's not forget that paper is also used for:
  • newsprint,
  • magazines,
  • books,
  • office stationery,
  • packaging, etc.
Althought it is difficult to actually guess the affects of this on the forests around the world, I can only imagine the havoc we as humans are wrecking on nature just because we love paper so much.

Let's Play the Blame Game
While these are considerable changes I am noticing in the newprint and publication industry towards a market induced shift to electronic formats, there is very little that is being done in our offices and warehouses. 20 years ago I heard/read somewhere that the world will be paperless in the next two decades with the advancements in technology and I still hear that today. What a shame!

I am not very upset by that trend. There is some progress, it's just that the rate of adoption of paperless means is very slow and the technology is still very expensive. Someone somewhere is to be blamed for it. Direct Marketing Association and Consumer Data Banks, maybe.

Time to Change
Junk mail is something I just don't understand a need of. I am sure that like me a majority of people who receive these promotional material discard it immediately. It's a pity that so many trees are fell every years only to end up in our trashcans and landfills without generating any value.

It is time that the marketing industry really does some study and get convinced that they are wasting time, money, resources, and most of all the environment/forests and getting no returns for it.

So, what I am suggesting here? Should these companies close their doors, lay off workers, shut down their business and contribute to a slowdown of the economy and high unemployment rate. No, that is not what I am suggesting. I am rather hinting that its time to move ahead and come up with electronic means of marketing the promotions. How sweet would it be that I have a hand held device where I receive all my coupons and promotions electronically, that get wiped off the device automatically as they expire, and remind me when I am in a mall. How easy and organized would that world be where people just beam their coupons and promotions electronically rather than having to sort, fumble, gather, scan, and debate the validity of already expired promotions.
How can you help?
Well, one of the first things you can do is to start discarding your paper trash into the recycling bin. Shred your junk at home and carry it to your office to discard it as recyclable material, if you don't have a separate recycled trash collection at home. This is the least you can do. But the problem is much bigger in scope than apparent. There are so many players and industries involved that you as a consumer might just feel helpless.
If you can:
  1. Do not checkmark the options to receive promotional material in post/snail mail, USPS at any of the websites that you register at or buy stuff from.
  2. Subscribe electronically, if you can, to your periodicals.
  3. If you don't get a newspaper thrown at home, you are already my hero.
  4. See if you can get your bank statements online and stop the paper being mailed to you.
  5. Whereever you get a service or product from please insist that you name and address not be traded to other companies.
  6. Register yourself at the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service (MPS) at
The above few steps can reduce your "paper footprint" a little. I think there should be a law in this country that prohibits merchants from selling consumer information to anyone. And by law they should stop sending marketing material in print if requested by the consumer(s).