Courtesy Parsons
Pic by Parsons

San Francisco politics might suffer from being habitually ridiculous and petty but it’s never a boring scene. District 5’s own Ross Mirkarimi sends out periodic updates via e-mail that I always skim through, and sandwiched between standard policy initiatives and the results of preliminary meetings with MUNI over route changes are the meat and potatoes of Left Coast head-scratchers.

Not to demean everything that is debated down at City Hall. The latest newsletter included a brief section about a resolution to be voted on by the board. If passed San Francisco would hold hands with local advocacy group Forest Ethics in some unspecified manner in order to aid in the establishment of a California “Do Not Mail” registry, based on the wildly popular “Do Not Call” registry that everyone except me signed up for.

The Do Not Mail subdivision of Forest Ethics has compiled an impressive dossier of the environmental consequences resulting from the billions of pieces of junk mail articles manufactured and shipped yearly. It’s not something I’ve ever invested much thought in beyond the obvious disgrace of massive quantities of paper I send towards recycling plants, but the carbon footprint (I suddenly feel like I’m a hot new Green start-up all of a sudden), assuming their figures are sound, is pretty horrifying. According to their site the manufacturing of what is cloyingly referred to as Direct Marketing creates greenhouse gas emissions parallel to nearly 10 million cars. Okay, I guess that’s cars driving some supposed average time per day with an average smog capacity and everything, but that’s a lot of pollutants.

On the deforestation front, Indonesia, Canada and the Southeastern United States are the primary sources for pulp used to make junk mail. The rate of deforestation in Indonesia has become a hot international topic, particularly as clear cutting for biofuel production is eradicating large tracts of land and driving peaceful monkey types to extinction, or at least heavy drinking and drug abuse. The less trees there are the less carbon dioxide is being absorbed before building up in the atmosphere (they accuse Indonesia of being the third largest Co2 belcher in the world), and 6.5 million tons of junk mail found new homes in domestic landfills as recently as 2006. Growing up in San Francisco it’s too easy to forget not every town has curbside recycling, although I’m quite confident laziness and cost effective rationalizations contribute their fair share to unnecessary paper waste. Many dumps incinerate their solid waste and while this helps to generate a small quotient of electrical power there’s still the matter of what’s hitting the air when the flames are on.

Courtesy the Daily Mail UK

Who knew there was an entire business dedicated to helping corporate clients streamline their junk-mail methods? The Direct Marketing Association is probably having a rough time of things in between the still-bleeding corpse of the economy and the growing greening (when it’s convenient and free) movement. They have responded to environmental concerns by helping companies reduce their own environmental impact as well as by attempting to distort the facts when inconvenient. Making claims that deforestation is offset by replanting, if you consider this simply disingenuous as opposed to criminal, reveals a lack of even the most basic understanding of how complex eco-systems cannot be replicated by carefully manicured tree farms. They claim that without catalogues and direct mailing campaigns more people would be driving to stores, which in between the amount of response they get to their efforts and the amount of carbon released because of their efforts betrays a junior Public Relations Officer at the helm. When they can’t fabricate some plausible non-truth about how paper and dioxins are good for the world they cling to the issue of economics, throwing numbers around about how many people are employed as a result of shop by mail invitations and credit card offers.

As concerned as I am about phone bank workers and catalogue designers the only real money threat I can see is that the United States Postal Service depends on large clients paying for presorted bulk mailings, which is junk mail. Sad to say that it doesn’t actually cost pocket change to get a letter from here to Shanghai– the cost that the American people would pay is offset by the business application of mail. If junk mail was eliminated (which would mean there would have to be a legal definition of junk mail, some appeals, more junk mail demanding you vote to save your right to receive junk mail) I’m not sure how the postal system would continue to function. Unless the government just said not to sweat it and agreed to pick up the tab while keeping consumer costs reasonable because they understood the toll of operating the sprawling mail system was insignificant when compared to the ecological havoc wreaked by the sales industry.

If this is an exciting development in consumer rights, environmental protection or if you’re just fucking sick of getting crap in your mailbox every day you’re invited to sign the petition to institute a Do Not Mail registry in California. It probably helps if you live here, although other region specific efforts are almost guaranteed to exist.