For paper recycling trend watchers, and direct mail advocates, something happened in the latest Municipal Solid Waste Characterization data just published last month (June 2015) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. First, the actual report has been renamed “Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures 2013.” Second, discarded advertising mail and catalogs now constitute just 1.6 percent of all MSW generated – down from 1.7 percent in 2012 and 2.3 percent at its peak in 2005 (before the Great Recession and 2006 postal rate hike).
Rarely, is discarded mail collected on its own for recycling – beyond post office lobbies and undeliverable mail collected by the U.S. Postal Service. This may be a direct result of single-stream paper and paperboard recycling in municipalities where office papers, newspapers, printed materials, magazines, catalogs, discarded mail, cartons, paper packaging and other mixed paper are more often than not collected in single bins (as they are in my hometown of New York City) by residential and commercial haulers.
While we may have lost some transparency into visibility of specific types of paper that are generated, recovered, converted to energy and landfilled – direct mail is no longer its own category for recovery, recycling and landfilling – we do see trends for paper and paperboard overall – and the results are encouraging.
First, a record 34.3 percent of all municipal solid waste (MSW) generated across all categories was captured for recovery in 2013. Disposal of generated waste in landfills decreased from 89 percent in 1980 to less than 53 percent in 2013 – and total MSW generated per capita stands at 4.4 pounds per person per day, about the same as it was in 1980, and down from its 2000 peak.
Not all recovered materials are recycled – some are composted and some are converted to energy. But all recovered materials are diverted from landfills.
For newspapers/mechanical papers (which include commercial printing papers such as direct mail and catalogs), the recovery rate reported in 2013 was 67 percent. In 2009, as much as 63.4 percent of discarded advertising mail and catalog had been recovered – but since 2010 recovery data for discarded mail has been rolled into the “newspaper/mechanical papers” category. For all paper and paperboard categories, 48.7 percent was recovered, and just 1.6 percent was landfilled. So we appear to be holding our own in recovery – and keeping fiber out of the dump.
As an aside, three categories of MSW did report growth in recovery in 2013: yard trimmings, consumer electronics and food – a direct reflection of the increase in composting (both residentially and at the municipal level), as well as manufacturer take-back programs and local electronics recycling collection efforts. The EPA report also states that the U.S. Postal Service is now instituting bulk mail recycling (lobbies and undeliverable bulk business mail) and that is helping to bolster recovery figures.
What’s our takeaway as marketers?
First, print marketers need to keep pushing consumers to recycle their mail, magazines and catalogs – after they’re done with them. The Direct Marketing Association “Recycle Please” and MPA | The Association of Magazine Media “Please Recycle” are two programs that encourage consumers to keep discarded papers out of the trash.
Second, just because you are digital, doesn’t get you off the hook for recycling. In fact, the EPA has consumer electronics recycling as a top priority – and smartphones, tablets, laptops, computers and other vehicles for digital advertising need to be recaptured. The DMA offers e-recycling data on its Recycle Please Web site as well.
So keep recycling America – read, respond and recycle that direct mail!