O.K., o.k., the earth is in dire danger, which puts us all in danger, and unless we actually change our priorities and actions our children’s children will live in a toxic unstable environment, get fatal cancers at young ages, and their children’s children (if they get born) will fight against the ferocious weather and dwindling food supply in a collapsed ecosystem just to survive, until all life is finally gone.
We’ve heard it, we care, now what? Some of us recycle some stuff. Some of us drive an expensive hybrid. Some companies even recycle. Yay. Overall, though, why does it seem like it’s still business as usual? Why do I get 3 phone books left on my porch even though I didn’t ask for them? Why is it a near impossibility to stop their delivery? Why are only 2% of the 5+ tons of tissue papers used annually (in the U.S.) from recycled material? And whose responsibility is it to change that stuff? And while I’m asking, what does “responsible” mean? What can an individual do about much bigger than individual problems?
As someone who wants to consider myself as something better than a parasite, I want to make sure that my personal impact, (some say “footprint”, but I’m talking about more than just oil and carbon), is as small as possible. When I talk about a person’s impact, I mean the personal use of materials and resources. The electricity they use, food they consume, gas, water, and so on. It’s more than just what’s utilized, too. Buying and using a product makes you responsible not just for the thing itself and its packaging, but also a portion of all the resources that are used in the making and transportation of it. But wait, there’s more! We are all responsible as individuals for what is wasted just to get and use what we do. The water that flows down the drain while you wait for it to get warm. The left overs that went bad while you were out of town. The first 4 copies that didn’t come out right. Since there’s no way to measure it, get an average, or figure an ideal, as a responsible individual, I simply have to try as hard as I can, in every arena.
To decrease my impact I try to save water by showering less, not flushing every time, and washing my clothes only when they need it. I reuse the blank back sides of paper, recycle every bit of it, and compost my unused bits of food. Anything I have control over is as efficient as I am able to make it.
Sometimes I get stuff. Free stuff, you know, at a show, fair, game or even on the street. If I know I’m not going to utilize it, then I refuse it. It may be as simple as a piece of paper, but imagine that tiny little waste and multiply it by as many people as you can see, or as many times as you’ve ever had something like that offered to you. I am choosing to take responsibility for all of the things I come into contact with; physical responsibility at an environmental level, even things that I didn’t ask for. When I say “responsibility” I don’t mean the psychological acceptance of ‘fault’ or guilt. Just that I am responsible for its purpose (that it gets used and not wasted) and its best destruction/disposal. The giver, after all, cannot possibly do that. By refusing the free thing I am refusing to take part in a larger impact. After all, what do you REALLY need a plastic bacardi necklace that flashes for? There’s a battery in there, ya know.
Imagine not ever being able to refuse all of the giveaways you come into contact with. Someone comes up to you at the mall and says: “Try our new chocolate covered snack” . You happen to be allergic, so what do you do with it? If you simply throw it in the trash, you are responsible for waste. This causes your personal impact to grow through no true fault of your own. Is it fair that you should have to try to find someone who wants it? If you can’t refuse, then you’d just hand it to the next guy and it would get passed on until it reached a person who would trash it or eat it. I know this example sounds absurd, but it is essentially the rule for a lot of waste.
As you already know, we don’t ask for the 6.5 million tons of junk mail (killing 100 million trees) that’s given to us for free every year. Not most of it anyway. So aside from being responsible for it’s proper destruction, (at 3 a day or more, that’s a big chunk of my time, especially if I want to take steps to ensure my privacy) how can I be responsible for it’s creation? Just letting junk mail come into my life and throwing it away makes me part of a big problem. I can recycle it all ‘till the lights go out, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still happening. This is why I must have the right to refuse anything anyone wants to give me. If I have no right to refuse, then I have no responsibility for my part, and no power to change it. And I WANT the power to change it.
Oh but there are things that can be done, right? Yep, LOTS of things. So many things to do in fact that it’s a pretty good investment of time. Call, mail, or email each sender and express your desire not to receive the mail. Of course, they still send it to you for a certain number of weeks or months (which seems to be growing) under the excuse that they pre-print and can’t sort you out. Some companies represented by the junk are not even the ones mailing you, so contacting them simply makes you a spectator in the sport of buck passing. If you want to opt out of credit solicitation, you cannot simply call amex or whoever, you have to call one or more separate entities and register your name and social security number with them.
Go to greendimes.org, now mailstopper.tonic.com and learn how very time consuming opting out of junk mail marketer by marketer can be, or, pay someone to do it! You could go to donotmail.org and sign the petition. You could go to one of a few really great websites like obviously.com/junkmail, and read lots of tips for getting rid of your junk mail and the things you need to do to keep it from starting. I mean LOTS of tips, almost 3 pages worth.
According to the U.S. Postal Service’s Domestic Mail Manual, section 508 Recipient Services 1.1.3 Refusal After Delivery: “...an addressee may mark a mailpiece "Refused" and return it within a reasonable time, if the piece or any attachment is not opened.” Trying to get your individual mail carrier to recognize your right to refuse, however, may cost you a gift sent by a faraway friend, a broken netflix disk, two weeks of delayed mail, litter on the ground, and a lot of frustration so, proceed with caution. Refused mail should be returned to the sender, but I don’t have high hopes that it is.
Sometimes, like with the unfabulous company comcast, the unconnected, less than knowledgeable telephone representatives either tell you they don’t know how to process your request, or simply claim to have done it (thank you Andre, Lynn and Shelly) while the junk keeps coming. That is, if they don’t decide to send you on a goose chase of different phone numbers and websites that circle back to the beginning, or end at the do not call registry. In my case, having called every available number repeatedly, returned, refused, and mailed back the mail with my request on it several times (paying for the postage) over the course of 5 years has had exactly one result: my name replaced with “current resident” on the mail piece. O.k. sorry, 2 results, I will never do business with comcast.
Is this having the right to refuse? Is this having the power to influence change? Doesn’t seem like it to me. If I have the right to refuse what I don’t want, and the power to change a system of nature abuse and waste, why do I have to pay for it? After it’s been paid for with my time, money and frustration, why don’t I get results? I say I deserve more than the right to refuse!
Sending something to me in the mail without my specifically requesting it should quite simply not happen in today’s environment. And this goes as well for all the junk taped to my box or litter thrown near my yard in a plastic baggy with rocks in it. I must not have to pay in any way for this, (i.e. services or lobbying) because then it is only granted to those who can or will pay for it, and that’s not right or effective. This is where it gets stupid. Businesses are not going to change what they’re doing just because it’s right, they have a monetary interest. They will only stop if they have governmental regulation, or some kind of change of circumstance that tips the scale of their practice being profitable. Since the government isn’t built for that kind of micromanaging, and shouldn’t be, another solution must be found.
HERE’S WHAT I SUGGEST WE DO. Print this article on the BACKSIDE OF PAPER THAT HAS ALREADY BEEN USED!, and return it with a postage paid envelope that you have received as junk mail, along with your request to be removed from their junk mail list. Further, you could sign the bottom if you agree to never buy anything from or patronize any business (or nonprofit!) who sends you junk in the mail. You could even take it to real HERO level and designate a stamp or two from every book you buy for those that don’t include an envelope with their junk. If you feel inclined, send this to someone you think is cool enough to take it seriously. Come on people, I’ve seen how far email forwards can go. The more of us who do this, the louder the message gets. Perhaps they will hear us saying that we should not have to jump through endless hoops in order to ensure our rights, or protect our earth. Perhaps they’ll get tired of paying for something that doesn’t benefit them and hurts their client base. Maybe.... maybe they’ll stop just to save the trees. (If you don’t know yet how valuable trees really are, read the book The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann. In fact, just read it anyway.)