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Ted Wells

Ted Wells

Posted: December 24, 2008 05:24 PM

Dear Santa, Stop Putting Catalogs in My Mailbox

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Ho! Ho! Ho! Many don't realize it, but we have a demented, over-caffeinated Santa with a wicked grin and dirty boots frantically traversing the United States delivering a 70-mile tall stack of sales catalogs to our mailboxes ... each day. That's millions upon millions of glossy Land's End, Williams-Sonoma, and J. Crew stacked up like a space shuttle lift off trail into the clouds ... each day. And 98% of those catalogs do not elicit a purchase. Most are never even opened. Some of us recycle them, but more than half end up in the landfills where they decompose, releasing methane, an intense global warming gas.

Ho! Ho? Heck! Someone needs to send this Santa a letter about greening up. Catalogs waste our time and overflow our mailboxes, but worse, they're a massive misuse of natural resources and energy. And when you waste energy, you're needlessly adding to global warming. In fact, according to the National Wildlife Federation, the annual production of 19 billion catalogs requires 126 trillion BTUs. This is enough energy to power 1.4 million homes a year. Creating the paper for catalogs emits 24 billion pounds of carbon dioxide pollution, equivalent to the emissions of 2.2 million cars. Is this twisted Santa treading soot across our carpets and putting poison in our milk? No, he's poisoning our children's futures.

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This holiday nightmare gets darker. We need forests to absorb heat-trapping carbon dioxide. Unfortunately, the catalog industry uses over 50 million trees per year to make those 19 billion catalogs - that's 100 trees per minute all year long. It's true that many of these trees are grown on sustainable tree farms that replant millions of trees each year, but if 98% of catalogs are not used, the energy costs of raising, cutting, and transporting these trees is all for naught.

Three gallons of water are needed to make one catalog. That's 53 billion gallons of water per year into Orvis, J.C. Penny, Sears and the like. It reminds me of the desire for lush green lawns outside Las Vegas. Or bubble baths in the Sahara. More accurately, it equates to 89,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools of water per year. Sorry to drain away your fun, Michael Phelps, but they have to sell those cozy, fleece-lined slippers!

Then there's the solid waste. Millions of garbage trucks, getting single digit miles-per-gallon are chugging around our towns and cities collecting billions of pounds of catalog waste that no one ever wanted. The annual catalog waste equates to 311,000 fully loaded garbage trucks. Then the catalogs rot in landfills warming our globe.

I'm frustrated that little is being done to curb the wasteful ways of the powerful catalog industry. The image that makes me boil over is the 70-mile tall stack of catalogs delivered per day in the US. Imagine a nightly, never-ending, Dr. Seuss-style heap wobbling fourteen times as high as mighty Mt. Everest, soaring eerily toward the moon from the back of Santa's sneaky sleigh. In a year that's a pile over 25,000 miles tall (assuming an average of 11 catalogs to an inch).

What if we spread them end to end, rather than stacking them? That's 19.8 billion catalogs times 10 inches = 198 billion inches. Divide that by 12 inches per foot. Divide that by 5,280 feet per mile and you get 3,125,000 miles of catalogs. Divide that by the circumference of Earth at 24,830 miles. And you could wrap the equator 126 times per year with catalogs that no one wants - or once every three days.

Why such a devastating waste? How can direct marketers get away with it? Most of us are just used to catalogs. We accept them as part of life. We worry about email spam (which wastes time) more than paper junk mail (which wastes time and natural resources). But after considering the environmental hazards of catalogs, you might now cancel yours by calling the 1-800-numbers on the back covers or by using CatalogChoice.org or GreenDimes.com. You can sign the petition to instate a Do Not Mail registry at DoNotMail.org. In addition, if you want to empower any green kids you know, host a Catalog Canceling Challenge with a school or scout group at CatalogCancelingChallenge.com.

Ultimately these actions are small and symbolic. Hopefully, like a snowball, they add up and pressure the catalog makers to trim back their lists, but we'll see. My Christmas wish is that the message of an angry fourth grade teacher like me, in the form of a snowball, is poignant enough to knock this demented Santa off his overloaded sleigh. Or at least hit him in the ear so that he might stop his elves from making 600 catalogs per second all year long. Perhaps 300 per second is a greener option - 25 million trees greener.

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I used to wonder, "How can it make economic sense to pay for the trees, water, and energy to make enough catalogs to fill football stadiums per day that no one wants?" But, as it was recently explained to me, if one catalog selling one pair of socks can pay for a dozen other catalogs, it's worth it. And if one catalog sells a jacket, it can pay for hundreds of other catalogs and make a tidy profit. So it does make economic sense, tens of billion of dollars worth of sense (and cents).

But it makes no environmental sense. And environmental factors must be considered in the marketing, manufacturing, and politics of our country in 2009. If not, we are literally poisoning the air and the water, destroying forests, and our children's future as the planet heats up.

The unsolicited mailing of catalogs is a vast environmental problem. Not only is it wasting an unimaginable amount of natural resources, it is also highly energy intensive and produces significant global warming pollution. Let's ask the direct marketers to tone it down. Cutting their output in half, to a still upsetting 10 billion catalogs per year and using more recycled content paper would be a start. Then they can use the funds they save to pay for on-line marketing instead. That is the future of sales, as they already know.

Dear catalog companies, on behalf of trees, water, wildlife, children, and consumers across the country, "Thanks, but no thanks. Keep your sick Santa away from our mailboxes."