Don’t Get Trashed — Is Recycling Discarded Mail Profitable? — Part II

In our previous post of “Marketing Sustainably,” we introduced an expert discussion on whether or not recycling collection of discarded mail, catalogs, printed communications and paper packaging is profitable, and why this matters is an important business consideration for the direct marketing field. In this post, we continue and conclude the discussion with our two experts, Monica Garvey, director of sustainability, Verso Paper, and Meta Brophy, director of procurement operations, Consumer Reports.

In our previous post of “Marketing Sustainably,we introduced an expert discussion on whether or not recycling collection of discarded mail, catalogs, printed communications and paper packaging is profitable, and why this matters is an important business consideration for the direct marketing field.

In this post, we continue and conclude the discussion with our two experts, Monica Garvey, director of sustainability, Verso Paper, and Meta Brophy, director of procurement operations, Consumer Reports. The conversation is based on a Town Square presentation that took place at the Direct Marketing Association’s recent DMA2012 annual conference.

Chet Dalzell: If much of the recovered fiber goes overseas, what’s the benefit to my company or organization in supporting recycling in North America?

Monica Garvey: The benefit—companies can promote that they support the use of recycled paper because they believe that recovered fiber is a valuable resource that can supplement virgin fiber. Recycling extends the life of a valuable natural resource, and contributes to a company’s socially responsible positioning. While it’s true that the less fiber supply there is locally, the higher the cost for the products made from that recovered fiber domestically, it’s still important to encourage recycling collection. Because recovered fiber is a global commodity, it is subject to demand-and-supply price fluctuations. If demand should drop overseas, and prices moderate, there may be greater supply at more moderate prices here at home, helping North American manufacturers; however, this is very unlikely. RISI, the leading information provider for the global forest products industry, projects that over the next five years, world recovered paper demand will continue to grow aggressively from fiber-poor regions such as China and India. Demand will run up against limited supply of recovered paper in the U.S. and other parts of the developed world and create a growing shortage of recovered paper worldwide.

CD: Is there a way to guarantee that recovered fiber stays at home (in the United States, for example)?

Meta Brophy: Yes! Special partnerships and programs exist that collect paper at local facilities and use the fiber domestically, allocating the recovered paper for specific use. ReMag, for example, is a private firm that places kiosks at local collection points—retailers, supermarket chains—where consumers can drop their catalogs, magazines and other papers and receive discounts, coupons and retailer promotions in exchange. These collections ensure a quality supply of recovered fiber for specific manufacturing uses. It’s a win-win for all stakeholders involved.

I recommend mailers use the DMA “Recycle Please” logo and participate in programs such as ReMag to encourage more consumers to recycle, and to increase the convenience and ease of recycling.

CD: What’s the harm of landfilling discarded paper—there’s plenty of landfill space out there, right?

MG: Landfill costs vary significantly around the country—depending on hauling distances, and the costs involved in operating landfills. In addition, there are also environmental costs. By diverting usable fiber from landfills, we not only extend the useful life of a valuable raw material, but also reduce greenhouse gas emissions (methane) that result when landfilled paper products degrade over time. There are also greenhouse gases that are released from hauling post-consumer waste. While carbon emissions may not yet be assessed, taxed or regulated in the United States, many national and global brands already participate in strategies to calculate and reduce their carbon emissions, and their corporate owners may participate in carbon trading regimes.

CD: You’ve brought up regulation, Monica. I’ve heard of “Extended Producer Responsibility” (EPR) legislation. Does EPR extend to direct marketers in any way?

MG: EPR refers to policy intended to shift responsibility for the end-of-life of products and/or packaging from the municipality to the manufacturer/brand owner. It can be expressed at a state level via specific product legislation, framework legislation, governor’s directive, or a solid waste management plan. EPR has begun to appear in proposals at the state level in the United States. EPR, for better or worse, recognizes that there are costs associated with waste management on all levels—not just landfilling, but waste-to-energy, recycling collection and even reuse.

These waste management costs currently are paid for in our taxes, but governments are looking to divert such costs so that they are paid for by those who actually make and use scrutinized products. Thus EPR can result in increased costs, were states to enact such regulation on particular products such as paper, packaging and electronic and computer equipment. Greatest pressure to enact EPR most likely focuses on products where end-of-life disposition involves hazardous materials where recycling and return programs may make only a negligible difference. Many will state that the natural fibers in paper along with the extremely high recovery rate of 67 percent makes paper a poor choice for inclusion in any state EPR legislation. That is also why the more we support the efficiency and effectiveness of existing recycling collection programs, the less pressure there may be to enact EPR regulations directly. It will likely vary state to state where specific concerns and challenges may exist.

CD: Does the public really care if this material gets recycled? Do they participate in recycling programs?

MB: Yes, they do. Even a public that’s skeptical of “greenwashing”—environmental claims that are suspect, unsubstantiated or less than credible—participates in recycling collection in greater numbers. Both EPA and American Forest & Paper Association data tell us the amount of paper collected is now well more than half of total paper produced, and still growing—despite the recent recession and continued economic uncertainty. Recycling collection programs at the hometown level are politically popular, too—people like to take actions that they believe can make a difference. And as long as the costs of landfilling exceed the costs or possible revenue gain of recycling, it’s good for the taxpayer, too.

CD: At the end of the day, what’s in recycling for my brand, and the direct marketing business overall?

MB: I see at least three direct benefits—and nearly no downside. First, a brand’s image benefits when it embraces social responsibility as an objective. Second, being a responsible steward of natural resources, and promoting environmental performance in a way that avoids running afoul of the Federal Trade Commission’s new Green Guides environmental claims—positions a brand well in practice and public perception. And, third, and I see this firsthand in my own organization, both the employee base and the supply chain are more deeply engaged and motivated as a result, too. Certainly, in the direct marketing business overall, there are similar gains—and I’m excited that the DMA has embraced this goal for our marketing discipline.

Catalogers & Publishers Get ‘Lucky’ as Their Mail Gets a Valuable Second Life

I recently took a trip to Sonoma County, Calif. While I was there, I learned of an innovation with a firm called REMAG that would have consumers return their used, mailed catalogs and magazines to REMAG-administered kiosks and recycling collection bins in test store locations. By scanning a barcode on the label of a returned catalog or magazine at the kiosk location, the consumer can receive multiple coupons of their choice for a future purchase from a publisher or catalog, a wide variety of store items, or other kiosk marketing sponsor-partner.

I recently took a trip to Sonoma County, Calif., and while the trip involved some sight-seeing among my business goings-on, it also had its share of personal visits to the local grocer, a nearby store called Lucky.

Lucky is part of a store chain owned by a firm called SaveMart, another California-based food retailer. SaveMart operates both Lucky and SaveMart in 243 store locations throughout California.

While I was there, I learned of an innovation with a firm called REMAG that would have consumers return their used, mailed catalogs and magazines to REMAG-administered kiosks and recycling collection bins in test store locations. By scanning a barcode on the label of a returned catalog or magazine at the kiosk location, the consumer can receive multiple coupons of their choice for a future purchase from a publisher or catalog, a wide variety of store items, or other kiosk marketing sponsor-partner. It’s not that much different from returning cans and bottles to a kiosk, except catalogs and magazines don’t come with deposits to be redeemed—consumers instead are rewarded with coupons for recycling.

It struck me how much of a win/win/win this is for everyone, and made me curious as to whether or not REMAG, which is a two-year-old company, is set to take off.

Think about all the benefits that are accrued here among stakeholders:

The consumer gets a handily located recycling kiosk just as they are entering a food retail location for this highly desired grade of recovered paper—old catalogs and magazines (OMG). OMG is highly valued since its fibers are usually long, dense and strong, making it a valuable component of subsequent manufactured recycled paper products. For their efforts, the customers are awarded a discount, coupon or other incentive to purchase from the very companies and brands they frequent.

For the retailer, REMAG kiosks are a great way to attract new customers and reward customer loyalty. The retailer also generates revenue for the valuable OMG that is recovered at the kiosk, alongside the customer purchases made during the store visit. In addition, with five cents of every coupon going to a local charity, the store gets customer “good will” for siting the kiosk and is assisting the local community—always popular for retailers. Lastly, as another recycling station—in this case for OMG paper—the REMAG kiosk is easily integrated into a store’s already-existing recycling collection center (where bottles and cans are collected, and deposits redeemed).

The catalog retailer and magazine publisher also gain from good will, while extending future purchase opportunities to the consumer who is performing the recycling collection task. (Most likely these consumers are already a catalog prospect or customer, or subscriber or casual reader of the magazine.) In turn, by way of incentives, these marketers may receive a new merchandise purchase by way of the coupon, or a new, renewed or gift subscription that otherwise may have gone untapped, or pushed off to another unspecified time. As magazine newsstand sales wane, this innovation could be an important method to attract new customers and remind readers to renew, or to perhaps extend a gift subscription to another.

REMAG gains, too. Whether or not the kiosks carry the REMAG branding, or that of the host store or other marketing partner (publishers, catalogers, recyclers, paper companies, etc.), the company gets to share a percentage of the coupon redemption revenue for every new product order or subscription it generates for its partners, as well as revenue for category sponsorships.

Local recyclers or paper companies with which REMAG does business get to put the collected papers to subsequent productive use—ensuring another life for a valuable fiber and an affordable source for that fiber. Despite the uncertain economy, there is a critical shortage of recovered paper—and all indications are that this commodity will continue to grow in demand globally. Magazine publishers and catalogers have an easy way to show that they are part of the solution.

Think global, act local. I suspect most California consumers, like most Americans, love to recycle, or at least support recycling collection activity as a matter of habit. The key is to make recycling collection easy and convenient. With a financial reward for recycling, both REMAG and SaveMart are excited about the prospects for a successful trial.

According to REMAG’s sustainability consultant David Refkin, the Lucky/SaveMart kiosk placement agreement initially will involve up to 8 stores in the Bay Area and the Central Valley of California for an initial test. If all goes well, it will likely roll out to other Lucky/SaveMart locations, too. One of the pilot location stores will be in San Bruno, very close to San Francisco Airport should you happen to be in the neighborhood.

For REMAG to be successful, many moving parts will have to come together successfully. There will need to be promotion of the participating store drop-off locations, as well as accessibility and awareness to the consumer. The collected material will need to be picked up, transported or distributed to a local or regional recovered fiber user.

The host store locations will hope to see local residents participating cleanly—as they potentially grow business by attracting new customers who happen to learn of the recovery drop-off sites, and choose to use them. And catalog retailers and magazine publishers will need to participate as well, to make sure they are leveraging this new and environmentally friendly “channel” in a smart business way that engages their prospects and customers.

Let’s see what happens in California and REMAG’s test there. We all might stand to get a little bit lucky.

USPS Talks Sustainability and Its Performance Returns for 2011

The United States Postal Service (USPS) recently released its fourth annual report on sustainability practices and performance. The document serves as a blueprint for any company or brand in the marketing field on how to report progress and hurdles toward improved triple-bottom line performance (financial, social and environmental, being the three bottom lines), and to illustrate the business case for doing so.

Our mantra is ‘leaner, greener, smarter, faster.’ To achieve these goals, we’re adjusting the size of our workforce and delivery network, eliminating waste, reducing energy consumption and encouraging our employees and customers to conserve. When the Postal Service is more efficient, everyone benefits.
—USPS Postmaster General & CEO Pat Donahoe, USPS 2011 Sustainability Report

The United States Postal Service (USPS) recently released its fourth annual report on sustainability practices and performance. The document serves as a blueprint for any company or brand in the marketing field on how to report progress and hurdles toward improved triple-bottom line performance (financial, social and environmental, being the three bottom lines), and to illustrate the business case for doing so.

Transparency is the hallmark of sustainability reporting, just as it is for financial-only reporting. According to the report’s summary, the USPS adhered to version 3.0 of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)—”the most widely respected international reporting standard for public sustainability performance disclosure”—for the report’s structure and detail.

For marketers, the report highlights some valuable information and insights on USPS operations, and what opportunities and challenges lay ahead for direct mail. Consider these findings, quoted in first person from the report:

  • RECYCLING—Our recycling efforts had a banner year with $24 million in revenue. We recycled more than 215,000 tons of material in 2011. By using our distribution network in new ways, improving contract services and working with recycling vendors to maximize revenue through economies of scale, we are starting to see results. Strong recyclable commodity pricing during 2011 played a part in our record revenue earnings, but the real story is a long-term strategy of continuous improvement. Also, by using our existing transportation network, we avoid fees from recycling vendors who would make costly stops at each local office. In FY 2011, more than 12,000 facilities participated in the backhaul recycling program, recycling more than 215,000 tons of mixed paper, cardboard, plastic and scrap metal—and earning $24.4 million in recycling revenue. We also encourage customers to recycle by asking them to discard unwanted mail in Post Office lobby recycling bins, instead of our trash cans. Our “Read, Respond and Recycle” mail lobby campaign was launched in 2009. More than 10,000 locations now offer customers lobby mail recycling. This effort continues to reduce waste being sent to landfills.
  • FACILITY ENERGY USE—Our progress toward reducing facility energy use 30 percent by 2015 continues to exceed our annual targets despite a slight increase in facility energy use this year. Since 2003, the Postal Service has reduced total facility energy use by more than 25 percent, nearly the amount of energy used by 90,000 average U.S. households in a year. USPS also reduced energy intensity, which is energy use per square foot of building space, by 22.4 percent in the same time period.
  • CARBON ACCOUNTING SUPPORT FOR MAILERS—We have been preparing a greenhouse gas emission inventory every year since 2007, and we now offer USPS BlueEarth, our new carbon accounting service so our business customers can determine their own carbon footprint for the mailing and shipping services the Postal Service provides. Postal Service business customers are increasingly requesting information about the greenhouse gas emissions associated with USPS services. The calculator [introduced earlier in 2012] uses proprietary USPS methodology to calculate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and takes into consideration the type of shipping or mailing product, size and weight, how it’s processed and transported and the distance the package or envelope travels. Energy awareness creates a culture of conservation at USPS.
  • RECOGNITION AMONG GOVERNMENT AGENCIES FOR GHG REDUCTIONS—We were awarded Gold status by The Climate Registry for leadership in reducing GHG emissions by more than 5 percent. Our overall target is to reduce GHG emissions 20 percent by FY 2020 using FY 2008 as a baseline. The Postal Service is among the first of the Registry’s more than 400 members and the first government agency to achieve the recognition. To report our GHG emissions, we are compliant with established protocols set forth by The Climate Registry, the International Post Corporation and under Federal Executive Order 13514 (of President Barack Obama, 2009).
  • LEADERSHIP TRAINING AT USPS INCLUDES SUSTAINABILITY’S BUSINESS CASE—The Postal Service’s leadership programs are designed to develop high-performing leaders to meet the changing needs of USPS into the future. They include a demanding curriculum offered over a six-month period, with classroom instruction and mentoring by existing and future executives on key topics in business finance, project management, leadership principles and presentation skills. The programs culminate with a business case presentation. The 2011 classes were challenged with creating a “sustainability business growth model” to improve USPS waste reduction and recycling and to develop strategies to engage employees in Green Team initiatives. The participants used their new understanding of sustainability to present a business case of their findings before an executive review panel chaired by Chief Sustainability Officer Tom Day.

Additionally the report documents transportation energy costs, as well as water use and conservation (arguably the next focused area for sustainability reporting after greenhouse gases).

Another element to postal sustainability, from a product development perspective, is the USPS’s focus on mail-back programs, working with product manufacturers and others on the creation and execution of services to return used goods (computers, printer cartridges, batteries, etc.) so they can be safely dissembled, disposed or recycled: “Postage‑paid mail envelopes are available in 1,600 Post Office lobbies. These envelopes can be used to ship small used electronics, such as cell phones, ink jet cartridges and digital cameras, to a centralized recycling center, where they’re broken down into usable parts. During 2011, customers recycled 185,000 items—about 22,000 pounds of material. Since the program began in 2008, more than a million electronic devices and printer cartridges have been kept out of landfills.”

There are skeptics—and some responders to this blog—who maintain that the Postal Service can’t afford to be chasing “go green” efforts when its financial life is on the line. Respectfully, I counter that it can’t afford not to! I commend USPS labor and management in their understanding—and leadership—in recognizing waste as a cost, and efficiency as a gain. Every postal customer should thank USPS and its green teams for this continued effort toward sustainability, in all its forms.

Here is the link to the full report: http://about.usps.com/what-we-are-doing/green/report/2011/welcome.htm

New Paper Recovery Data Shows Impact of Recession, Digital Media

New data from the American Forest & Paper Association regarding paper recovery rates in the United States has some good news—and not-so-good news—regarding U.S. recycling collection. As marketers, we need to pay close attention to these rates, and take active steps to support increased recovery, since such recovery can have positive impact on recycled paper supply and pricing, as well as other marketplace concerns regarding our print communications and paper packaging.

New data from the American Forest & Paper Association regarding paper recovery rates in the United States has some good news—and not-so-good news—regarding U.S. recycling collection. As marketers, we need to pay close attention to these rates, and take active steps to support increased recovery, since such recovery can have positive impact on recycled paper supply and pricing, as well as other marketplace concerns regarding our print communications and paper packaging.

The good news is that the paper business has continued to increase recovery rates for all types of paper, achieving a record 66.8-percent recovery for the nation [see the first image in the media player at right].

For printing and writing grades, recovery rates slipped from its 2009 recovery percentage peak of 61.0 percent, now registering a 56.8-percent recovery rate, but still ahead of the pre-recession recovery rate [see the second image in the media player at right].

In both the overall market for all grades combined, and the printing & writing grades market, the peak year for paper consumption (the bars on both of the preceding graphs) was pre-recession 2007, a high point we have yet to re-attain in both categories as our economy has returned to tepid growth.

However, by looking at just printing & writing grades consumption, the falloff from the 2007 peak, and the lack of recovery, is far more pronounced than in the paper market overall—fully a 23.7-percent drop from 2007 to 2011. This is certainly a sign that while the recession prompted a pullback, digital media has brought on a migration from print communications, and most certainly in postal mail. That data is supported by declining U.S. Postal Service First-Class Mail volume data, and near-minimal growth in Standard Mail.

Thus, the generally higher recovery rates are generated by higher recycling collection activity or perhaps a more expansive recovery infrastructure, but also by source reduction—there’s just less printing and writing papers being generated.

Certainly, the role of direct mail is changing in an increasingly mobile, digital age—and thankfully, we’re getting a good percentage of what we do consume recycled. We need to do better.

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Inside the Recycling Tub: Catalogs & Direct Mail, Post-Consumer

The year was 1990. Earth Day turned 20 years old. The darling book that year was 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. Its author’s top recommendation was “Stop Junk Mail.” The book was a “cultural phenomena,” as one reviewer recalled, selling more than 5 million copies in all.

The year was 1990. Earth Day turned 20 years old. The darling book that year was 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. Its author’s top recommendation was “Stop Junk Mail.” The book was a “cultural phenomena,” as one reviewer recalled, selling more than 5 million copies in all.

During the early 1990s, millions of consumers wrote their request to the then-Mail Preference Service (MPS, now DMAchoice) to remove themselves from national mailing lists, partially as a result of the media hype around that publication and its recommendation to consumers to sign up for MPS. Even some cities and towns urged their citizens (with taxpayer money) to get off mailing lists. I don’t think the Direct Marketing Association released publicly its MPS consumer registration figures, but it swelled to the point where some saturation mailers nearly considered not using the file for fear it would disqualify them for the lowest postage within certain ZIP Codes where new MPS registrants were concentrated. (DMA developed a saturation mailer format at the time to preserve MPS utility.)

Removing names from a mailing list is what solid waste management professionals call “source reduction”—an act that prevents the production of mail (and later waste) in the first place.

One of the reasons “junk mail” met with some consumer hostility then was simply because once you were done with a catalog or mail piece, wanted or not, there was no place to put it except in the trash. It seemed to many, “All this waste!” (that actually amounted to about 2.3 percent of the municipal solid waste stream back then).

Thankfully, there were other marketplace and public policy dynamics tied to support of the green movement, circa 1990. In a word, “recycling” (like source reduction) was seen as a part of responsible solid waste management. At the time, North American paper mills were scrambling to get recovered fiber to manufacture paper products and packaging with recycled content. Some states (and the federal government) set minimum recycled-content and “post-consumer” recycled-content percentage requirements for the paper they procured, while California mandated diversion goals for solid waste from its landfills. Increasingly, foreign trading partners were clamoring for America’s discarded paper to meet their ravenous demands for fiber. The cumulative results were an aggressive increase in the amount of paper collected for recycling and the number of collection points across the United States.

All this boded well for catalogs and direct mail, as far as their collection rates. Catalogs and magazines are considered equivalent when it comes to their fiber makeup. They do tend to have more hardwood (short, thinner fibers) versus softwood (long, strong fibers) since the hardwood gives a nice, smooth printing surface. When they are collected for recycling, recovered catalogs and magazines are suitable for lower quality paper/packaging grades, as well as for tissue. Some of the fiber does wind up getting used as post-consumer waste in new magazines and catalogs, but producers of such papers much prefer having recovered office paper (ideally not mixed with other lower-quality post-consumer papers) as their source of post-consumer content, as the quality is better for making higher quality magazine/catalog papers. (See link below from Verso Paper.)

Most direct mail when recovered is classified as mixed papers, and is suitable for tissue, packaging and other recovered-fiber products. (Today, a lot of paper recovery mixes it all together, and with positive reuse.) By 2007, DMA had received permission from the Federal Trade Commission to begin allowing mailers to place “recyclable” messages and seals on catalogs and mail pieces (roughly 60 percent of U.S. households must have access to local recycling options before “recyclable” labels can be used). Upon this FTC opinion, DMA promptly launched its “Recycle Please” logo program. By 2010, in addition, thousands of U.S. post offices were placing “Read-Respond-Recycle” collection bins for mixed paper in their lobbies.

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began tracking “Standard Mail” in its biennial Municipal Solid Waste Characterization Report in 1990, the recovery rate (through recycling collection) was near 5 percent. By 2009 (the most current year reported), the recovery rate had increased more than 10-fold to 63 percent—but I cite this figure with a big asterisk. There will be a discussion in a future post on why the EPA MSW recycling data may not be as accurate (and as optimistic) as these findings seem to present. In fact, the EPA itself has asked for public comment on how its current MSW study methodology can be improved—again, more on that in another post.

While I’m not an expert on solid waste reporting, I certainly can see the positive direction underway here, no matter what the actual recovery rate may be. The more catalogs and direct mail that are recovered for their fiber, chances are that there will be more efficient use of that fiber in the supply chain, rather than ending up in a landfill. That helps relieve pressure on paper and packaging pricing, which is good for our bottom lines.

It might also, just a little bit, make a consumer think to herself “I love my junk mail”—as she takes the no-longer-needed mail at week’s or season’s end and places it into a recycling tub. Recycling makes us feel good. It is simple to do. Recycling may not truly save the Earth, but it certainly does extend the life of an importantly renewable natural resource, wood fiber.

Helpful links: