The United States Postal Service: Subsidized by Junk


The United States Postal Service is facing serious financial problems because of the arrival of the electronic age and fierce competition from commercial rivals, FedEx and UPS.  As the USPS struggles to remain quasi-competitive, even as a subsidized institution, many wonder, whether the USPS is even relevant in this day and age (Rosenthal, 2011).  In order to stay afloat amid reduced usage by consumers and business as more communications goes online, the USPS has primarily catered to advertisers with it’s only remaining currency, the addresses of every person in the United States and a captive channel to reach them, in effective becoming a direct mail company (Rosenthal, 2011).  Of course, as consumers, most of us receive hundreds or thousands of pieces of junk mail annually, offering new credit cards, value-paks of coupons, and ten-dollar pizza offers, which we throw away or at best, recycle.  Miller and Spoolman (2010) suggest waste reduction is a key strategy for dealing with the problems of solid waste and I can think of no greater candidate than junk mail.

The Native Forest Network (2003) estimates that 100 million trees are cut down to produce 4.5 million tons of junk mail in the U.S. every year, where as much as 40% of it is thrown away unopened.  Rosenthal (2011) cited nearly 5 million tons of waste that “costing cities an estimated $1 billion to dispose of it” (p. 1).

Instead of continuing to fund an outdated and irrelevant institution, the USPS should be phased out over the next decade, as the country moves the remaining first-class mail online.  For the few transactions that cannot be done online, let FedEx or UPS do the job.  In the meantime, it is time to stop the useless, wasteful, junk mail industry in its tracks.  Some might argue, that businesses could be harmed with the dissolution of the USPS direct mail practice, given that prices for shipping and 1st class mail would likely go up (Orsini, 2011).  However, many business are already pushing consumer interactions online to save money on printing and mailing costs, in a bid to be more efficient (Orsini, 2011). We should no longer allow the federal government to monetize its monopoly on the mail service by subsidizing harmful environmental practices that offer little if any benefit to U.S. citizens.

And while we are waiting for that to happen, the Native Forest Network (2003) offers several useful tips for reducing the amount of junk mail received.  Although, perhaps I’ll just chop down my mailbox.

References

Miller, G. T., & Spoolman, S. (2010). Environmental science (13th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.

Native Forest Network. (2003). Native Forest Network’s Guide to Stopping Junk Mail  Retrieved December 23, 2011, from http://www.nativeforest.org/stop_junk_mail/nfn_junk_mail_guide.htm

Orsini, P. (2011). Finding Alternatives as Business Postage Costs Increase. CNBC, 1. Retrieved from http://www.cnbc.com/id/45556976?__source=google%7Ceditorspicks%7C&par=google

Rosenthal, E. (2011). The Junking of the Postal Service. The New York Times, (Sunday Review), 1. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/04/sunday-review/the-junking-of-the-postal-service.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2

 

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