Everyone is talking about plastic waste. That is good and important. The massive waste of paper attracts much less attention. Nevertheless, it can’t be overlooked if you just pay a little attention to it.
Unwanted advertising in the mailbox – who doesn’t know that? Brochures, flyers, advertising papers – week after week. This annoying anachronism is kept alive mainly by our own habit and indolence (“It has always been like this.”). We can all do something about the flood of paper with little effort – just by changing our behavior a little.
Paper waste in the mail box
The non-profit initiative Letzte Werbung (“last advertisement”) has calculated that every household in Germany receives approx. 33 kg (!) of unaddressed advertising mail per year. That results in a total of 1.1 million tons of paper per year, 90% of which ends up in the waste paper unread. 14 billion liters of water are required to produce this amount of paper. In addition, there are annual carbon emissions of around 1 million tons. For this purpose, forests are cut down or forest plantations are set up – both at the expense of biodiversity. Not to mention the transport emissions. What madness.
Another problem is that advertising brochures are often bundled in plastic wrap. And many don’t even bother to remove them before throwing the brochures in the waste paper. Hello!? Could it be that the paper recycling machines cannot tolerate plastic?? And either way, the recycling of waste paper is also resource-intensive (electricity, water, …). Recycling is good, avoidance is (much) better.
Self-test: Do I really need print advertising?
If you think brochures and advertisements are great – for whatever reason – please consider whether they have to be printed on paper. Many brochures and advertising papers are also available on the Internet, some with convenient search functions to quickly find the bargain you are looking for. In addition, there are now various apps for scrolling through brochures on your smartphone. Simply enter “brochures” in the App Store of your choice.
If you are not interested in this type of advertising but still don’t have a sticker on your mailbox, you should look at the aforementioned numbers again. Is this really necessary? Is it so time-consuming to get a “STOP – no advertising!” Sticker? You can buy one for little money, e.g. in various web shops. It is best to use a sticker that explicitly says says that you don’t want free newspapers either. For wharever reason, some delivery agents seem to make a difference between advertising and free newspapers…
The NGO Letzte Werbung is committed to ensuring that every household in Germany gets a free “No Ads” sticker – a great idea! If you like, you can get involved in a similar way: Just buy a few more stickers and give them generously to your neighbors! A small step that – if many take part – can save millions of trees every year.
In addition to the unaddressed advertising, there are also brochures and leaflets that are addressed directly to you because the sending companies – wherever from – know your address. If you want to get rid of this advertising, too, you can put yourself on the so-called Robinson list (Germany only). Afterwards, you can look forward to much less garbage in your mailbox.
Beyond print advertising
Not only in your mailboxes we get flooded by paper. Here are two more examples of areas where much more paper is produced and used than necessary:
Example 1: Newsagents
You find them in every supermarket – shelves full of magazines. We hardly waste a single thought on them. But are they all actually sold? Of course not. And what happens to those that are left on the shelf? Well, they get returned to the publishers. Some copies may later end up in the waiting rooms of doctor’s offices and in hairdressing salons via reading circles, some are held back for reorders. And all the rest is getting crushed – unread.
Example 2: Your Job
So much is being printed out – e-mails (OMG!), guidelines, documentation, forms. Maybe you fill in the latter on your computer, but since it’s still often only the manual signature that counts, you turn on the printer. Someone else will re-enter the form entries into some other computer. Endless media breaks, 90s style. In addition, tons of brochures, newspapers from professional associations, etc. are sent to countless companies / institutions. In my article “The Green University – a Checklist” I talked about how, for example, universities are “bombarded” with various print products, a very small part of which is actually read.
Less is more
Producing, distributing, disposing and possibly reprocessing paper products not only pollutes the environment and costs valuable resources. Paper also burdens its owner. It’s lying around, taking up space, getting dusty. You may decide to read them at some point in time, but then you don’t make it. There is so much else to do. And so the piles get higher and higher.
So let’s get rid of the paper load in our mailboxes, on our kitchen tables and at work.
Free your desk and free your mind.
Minimalism sets you free, gives space to breathe and space for new thoughts. And with something as unnecessary as unwanted print advertising, it’s really not difficult to live more minimalism.