Sunday, October 12, 2008

Environmentally-Conscious Garbage

The hard-copy mail I get can be pretty easily divided into two categories: bills and junk mail. Since I've been paying all my bills electronically for a while, the bank that holds my mortgage decided not to include a return envelope every time it sends me a bill. That was fine with me -- it saved me the trouble of tossing the envelope into the recycling bin, even though I thought it was a bit presumptuous of them. But then a little while later, they informed me that the were going to send all future bills to me via email. This wasn't something I could opt in or out of -- I had no choice but to get my statements electronically.

Again, it was a bit presumptuous of them, but I can understand why they did it. And I expect that as time marches on, more and more of my bills will be sent to me electronically. This will mean, of course, that eventually the only hard-copy mail I'll receive will be junk mail.

There are all sorts of junk mail, but the kind I'm going to talk about today is the kind where some organization sends a request for my financial support. And since I'm a socially- and environmentally-conscious guy, most of the requests I get come from socially- and environmentally-conscious organizations.

Sometimes I donate money, but most of the time I just toss the requests into the recycling bin.

So you see the irony, right? Some environmentally-conscious organization wants me to donate some money, so they send me a letter and a return envelope and a form to send back with my check, and all these things are made of paper. And in order to make that paper, someone either had to chop down some trees or recycle some other paper products. In either case, a lot of energy was expended to send out hundreds of thousands of requests, most of which probably ended up in various recycling bins -- or even worse, in trash cans -- throughout the nation.

But that's not the bad part. The bad part is that many of these environmentally-conscious organizations seem to think that I want a plastic bumper sticker or window sticker advertising their organization. I don't, and apparently a lot of other people don't either, because I don't think I've seen more than maybe a dozen cars whose windows or bumpers are adorned with these stickers. And since the stickers are not recyclable, they have to go into the trash, where they are then carted off to various landfills, where they will sit for thousands of years while they silently decompose. Sometimes they don't send stickers, though. Sometimes they just send pages of self-stick address labels which I also have no need for, so they end up in the landfill as well. It seems to me that these environmentally-conscious organizations should be a bit more environmentally-conscious.

So they should get rid of all the throwaway plastic stickers, obviously. But it's a little harder to fault them for sending the requests that end up in the recycling bin. They could use email, and that would be a lot more environmentally-conscious, but it's so ridiculously easy to hit the Delete button that if they relied on email alone, they'd probably go broke. They could always use the telephone, but they'd probably make even less money that way. Whenever some organization calls me to request a donation, I just tell them I'm not interested and hang up. It doesn't even matter who they are or how strongly I believe in their cause -- if they call me on the phone, I'll hang up on them. It's a matter of principle.

And because of that principle, tons of envelopes and requests for donations are needlessly sent through the mail, tossed into the recycling bin, and recycled into new paper, some of which is used to make new envelopes and stationary on which requests for donations can be printed. It's an endless cycle, and you can probably blame it at least partially on people like me who don't like people calling them up and asking for money.

You can't blame the bumper stickers and window stickers and self-stick address labels on me, though. I don't have anything to do with that.