Debunking the Myth of Trees vs. Direct Mail
In 2007, the Federal Trade Commission gave direct marketing businesses and organizations clearance to begin including "Recycle Please" messaging on catalogs and direct mail pieces, in large part because 65 percent of U.S. residents have access to local recycling collection options. Discarded catalogs classify as "old magazines," and are highly valued for the long, strong fiber they contain, making them a perfect candidate for reuse as recycled paper in office papers and newsprint. Discarded direct mail most often classifies as "mixed paper," and is recycled as tissue paper.
What happens to undeliverable as addressed (UAA) mail largely depends upon its class. Most First Class UAA mail is forwarded or returned, while most Standard UAA mail is handled as waste. Discarded direct mail represents just 2.4 percent of municipal solid waste, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The country's recycling recovery rate has grown by nearly 700 percent since 1990. That said, almost 10 billion mail pieces were UAA. Of these 10 billion pieces, almost 2 billion were forwarded, 1.6 billion were returned to sender and 6.1 billion were treated as waste. Overall, UAA mail comprised 4.7 percent of the mail stream.
According to the EPA, 35.8 percent of discarded Standard Mail was recovered for recycling in 2005 — a near sevenfold increase since 1990, and an 11.9 percent increase since 2003. And while direct mail volume in the U.S. has grown 57 percent in 15 years, the amount of discarded mail sent to landfills has remained virtually unchanged.
Direct mail also earns eco-points during mail cycle stages — the inputs (e.g., paper and plastics) through to the endpoints (e.g., greenhouse gas emissions). Since 1980, the U.S. paper industry has reduced emissions of air pollutants such as nitrogen oxides by 37 percent and sulfur dioxide by 68 percent. U.S. paper mills reuse a large portion of the water they use in the pulping and paper-making process. The outcome: water consumption rates have decreased by more than 65 percent over the past 30 years.