Junk mail

(The bit about email is borrowed from a post of 2009-04-18.)

Postally speaking, I lead a quiet life. Now and then I get a letter from my parents or a book I've ordered. Usually they're accompanied by a couple items of junk mail. Recently, however, I spiced up my postal life by taking out a Netflix subscription. Today as I opened my mailbox to retrieve my latest disc (the 1968 version of The Lion in Winter), a pile of junk mail poured out. Having to scoop it up off the ground was a minor annoyance; having to violently jam down the contents of my garbage can to make room for this mail was a more severe annoyance.

Since there were no exceptional pizza coupons in that redwood tree worth of mail, the only positive that I can attribute to the pile of waste is that it impelled me to look up just how many pieces of direct mail are sent out each year. The following is from Time Magazine's December 15th, 2008 issue:

These days Americans get an average of 18 pieces of junk mail for every personal letter. From catalogs to credit-card solicitations, our mailboxes are increasingly clogged with clutter. Dealing with unwanted mail not only wastes our time (eight months over the average lifespan) but also bears environmental costs. Paper spam eats up an estimated 100 million trees each year, with 44% of junk mail ending up--unopened--in landfills.

Writer Jeremy Caplan goes on to present these statistics:

40 LB. -- Weight of junk mail each American gets per year

848 -- Pieces of junk mail each household gets per year

89% -- Poll respondents who support a Do Not Mail list

30% -- Worldwide mail composed of U.S. junk mail

19 BILLION -- Number of catalogs mailed every year

Another article I came across states that over 3.8 billion separate credit card offers were mailed out to Americans in 2008.

Now Wired Science has pointed out a report from Antivirus and junkware peddlers McAfee that says that spam -- electronic junk mail -- pollutes the environment too:

According to a report published by computer antivirus and spam filter seller McAfee, the annual sending, receiving and hand-deleting of 62 trillion email spams consumes 33 terawatt hours of energy every year. Producing that energy emits about 20 million tons of greenhouse gases.

In the translational shorthand of environmentalism, that's enough juice to power Chicago for two years, and the greenhouse equivalent of driving 1.6 million cars around the Earth.

And who says capitalism isn't efficient? The problem is that it's all too efficient -- but not at satisfying human needs.