Here's a pop quiz for you - which of the two scenes below do you think is more likely?
Scenario 1 - I open everything I get in the mail, and suddenly I am a happier person, paying lower interest, owning a better home (after selling the one I'm living in at an unbelievable price), have a home full of great stuff, bought with shiny new plastic, be better educated, and more relaxed.
Or Option 2 - I yank my hair out in frustration at, the hours wasted ripping open bulky envelopes to make sure there's no personally identifiable info, a slew of paper-cuts crisscrossing my tough skin, a new batch of recycling every day, and a sinking feeling at the backlog of other chores. Any guesses?
I know that to many of you, a version of option 2 hits close to the mark, frustration at the volume of junk mail we receive daily is a common complaint, yet, they keep coming, everyday in the mail. Fat, glossy, window envelopes, with sometimes too much knowledge about our lives (it's scary how easy it is to get that data) or names spelled wrong, or worse yet, addressed to Resident or current postal customer. Catalogs, that are probably best used as weights in a home gym, for things we wouldn't know what to do with! And at what cost?
I wanted to know, so I did some digging around and read multiple sources of info online, here's what I found -
- Each US household receives an average of 16 pieces of junk a week, some as much as that in a day. Did some quick math and that is the equivalent of one tree worth of junk mail every year.
- Only 50% of junk mail received is recycled, which means that about 50 million trees are effectively cut down and thrown away every year.
- In addition, the junk mail industry uses about 28 billion gallons of water every year to produce all that waste (Californians could probably find better use for that, on luxuries like baths, flushing toilets and feeding livestock)
- Paper production is the 4th largest consumer of energy and the 3rd largest industrial polluter
- The US with only 5% of the worlds population is the largest consumer, responsible for 30% of paper consumption.
- 40% of the worlds harvested trees are used for paper production.
And as with so many things, a lack of knowledge seems to be the biggest factor (or so I choose to believe). I had a conversation at work recently, with a couple of young colleagues. They were reviewing a presentation with me and printed out the 30 page document in single page full color, times 3. Despite telling them I disliked printed material, they not only printed out the original, but after my feedback, they ripped up the copies and printed out the corrected version too. So I stopped them and started explaining why it was important that they try and minimize their use of paper, when one of them said - "but don't they grow trees on farms now for paper, so no forests are getting destroyed?"
Here's the problem - while its true that an increasing amount of the worlds paper needs are being sustainably manufactured (approximately 35% comes from recycled material), the majority of it does come from tree farms or plantations. Althought, that may sound like an acceptable solution, here's the downside - tree farms or plantations are created by clearing out vast tracts of native forests. Also, tree farms are most efficient as "monocultures" where only the type of tree required for mass production is grown, this in turn depletes the soil of its nutrient diversity and contributes to habitat loss and risk of extinction for native species of plants and animals
So what can you do about it? Reducing the demand for paper is one first step that everyone can contribute to. While there are a ton of resources online to help you reduce your paper footprint, here are quick tips to start NOW -
- To stop getting junk mail you can start by signing up at https://www.dmachoice.org/ to have Direct Marketers delete you from their list. You can also in some cases contact companies that mail you directly (like the email unsubscribe option). It may take a bit of time to do this, but in the long run you'll be saving yourself time, energy and TREES.
- Change all your bills to paperless, all the energy companies, banks etc, offer that option
- Don't print! if you can view something on a screen or projector do so. If you have to, print on both sides and if not, don't throw away the material when done, use the back for notes, to-do lists etc.
- Use an app for shopping lists, or if you're old school like me, write it on a dry-erase white board and take a picture.
- At home, use rags and cloth napkins instead of paper towels.
Most importantly, as with everything that's possibly bad for us or the environment, stop and think every time you reach for something paper. Do I really need this? Or can I try and save another tree to produce oxygen for me to breathe, beauty to amaze me and a home for all the unique little critters that make this such a beautiful planet?