The Problem With Waste Paper and Door Drops in the Environment

The Problem With Waste Paper And Door Drops
Reading Time: 4 minutes

The government ministry – the Department of Fisheries and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) wants the direct marketing industry to reduce the amount of paper that is wasted i.e. paper that is not recycled but dumped into household waste and thence into landfill.

Paper, as we know, is one of the worlds easiest resources to recycle and use again, and again, so to see it any of it end up in landfill is a crime against the environment.

Direct Marketing is an important to the UK economy.

It is absolutely fundamental to any expanding economy that wants to provide its population with better schools, better hospitals, improved infrastructure and better welfare state etc.

We will never be able to afford more nurses, doctors, teachers, policemen unless we have an expanding economy. The need for businesses and government to communicate with people and householders is an essential part of improving or better society and expanding economy. In an electronic age, this can be done with, Radio, TV and the various forms of the internet but not everyone has access to all of this all of the time. The life span of a radio or tv advert is very small – once it’s over its over and if you missed it you missed it. A friend might tell you about it but that’s not the same as getting it first-hand. The need for longer-lasting communications i.e. the paper-based ones e.g. Newspapers, magazines Leaflets etc as part of the communication mix is considerable.

The case for paper-based direct marketing therefore is clearly proven. However, as everyone knows we are all bombarded with marketing messages as we live our daily lives. The vast majority of us accept this as part of living in the 21st century and understand the arguments above. If we want a better economy and the better society that this brings us we need to accept the ‘no free lunch’ reality of the world we live in.

However, most people in marketing accept that individuals have the right to minimise (as much as they can) the number of messages they get.

There are many ways in which they can do this, ie they can reduce TV adverts by only watching recorded TV and fast forward through the breaks. Listen to BBC radio or other stations without adverts, turn up the spam filter on the email server. However, when we push a leaflet or newspaper through their letterbox some of these people see this as a waste of trees and a waste of paper.

People mistakenly think paper making is a voracious energy consumer but look more closely and you’ll discover some surprisingly small statistics about energy and paper. The paper industry is one of the biggest users of renewable, low carbon energy and over half the energy used to make paper in Europe comes from renewable sources. European forests have grown by over 30% since 1950 and are increasing by 1.5 million football pitches every year – an area 4 times the size of London.

The paper industry is a relatively small user of wood. Of the wood extracted from the world’s forests, 53% is used for energy production, 28% is used by sawmills and only around 11% is used directly by the paper industry.

So these simple facts go a long way to showing that Door Drops do little damage overall to the environment but getting this message to the public at large is difficult. Although there is a relatively small number of people who object to paper being used in marketing their voice and the protestations they make are often louder than the facts about the industry show.

The Direct Marketing Association has engaged with the government via its agency DEFRA and agreed to beef up the Your Choice preference scheme with a new scheme due to launch in April. This is all very well and proper – we should not deliver printed material to letterboxes of householders that don’t want it, should we? There are however some logistical problems to achieving the objectors request eg if there is more than one person in a home –  by agreeing to stop delivering we deny the rights of other occupants in the home who may very well want the leaflets we deliver.

Similarly, some of those objectors only want to exclude certain types of leaflets but the current Your Choice scheme and its planned successor will block everything if the address is registered. So assuming that a preference scheme can be developed and operated to go some way to assuage the objector’s anger will this actually have any noticeable effect on reducing paper waste or minimising its effect on the environment.

Quite frankly the answer is no. I personally suggest that 5 years after the start of the new door drop preference scheme the noticeable difference to the amount of waste paper around will be zero there may even be more.

What should DEFRA and the government do?

Well, outside of the industry it is little known or appreciated that Royal Mail (currently 100% UK government-owned) delivers to UK letterboxes somewhere in the region of 30 -35% of all unsolicited unaddressed mail or letterbox targeted advertising material.

The government could in one fail swoop achieve its reduction targets for the next few years if it told the Royal Mail to stop delivering leaflets and concentrate on addressed mail only. The cost of a First Class stamp would probably have to go up to £1.50 but Householders would see an instant and dramatic fall in the amount of paper through their letterboxes, some of the material would be diverted to independent companies but a fair chunk of Royal Mails’ volumes would divert to TV, Radio, Magazine and Internet Marketing and possibly disappear forever.

It’s ironic the government is on one side of the coin (through Royal Mail) a substantial competitor of the small independent door to door delivery companies and on the other side demanding (through Your Choice and its successor)  that we reduce the amount of material we deliver.

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