Thursday, April 2, 2009

You've Got Mail (Again! Geez Does This Stuff Ever Stop?)

Last week, a mail miracle occurred.

I didn't get any.

Sitting on my front porch with a book (yes, made from paper), I watched in wonder as our friendly neighborhood carrier passed by and said "nothing today."

I was flabbergasted.



We at Thin Green Line's Corporate Mega-Headquarters and luxury green spa were puzzled because we have not yet done what we put on our "to do" list months ago -- sign up with 41

We should. After all, what's not to like?

For $41, they stop all junk mail to your house for five years.

No credit card offers to shred or unwanted catalogs; one-hundred-plus trees not harvested to make the junk; 28 billion gallons of water kept clean.

And, more than two-thirds of the fee you pay is donated to the green charity of your choice.

(We are compelled to report here that, sadly, despite vociferous argumentation by the Thin Green Line's financial team -- all of whom have paid their taxes, for the most part -- those snobs at the IRS insist we are not a charity and you cannot name us at the "charity of your choice." Apparently, we also do not qualify for a government bail-out despite making many, many financial mistakes with other people's money. Sad as this no doubt makes you, believe you us, it makes US much sadder.)

Anyway, back to our over-burdened mailman. Despite his tendency to deliver unwanted bills, he's a great guy who unfortunately is tasked with carrying a whole lot of other stuff we don't want; in other words, junk mail.

Now those in the business like to call it "direct mail," as in mail that goes "direct"ly into the trash.

There is a little less of it these days, primarily because a national credit crisis has a tendency to dry up myriad credit card offers from companies that no longer feel safe giving credit to Fort Knox, much less environmentalist losers trying to make a better world.

But let's not kid ourselves, its out there...waiting... and, like an Arnold Schwarzenegger cameo in the next Terminator movie, it will be back!

So now comes the spot in our blog where we bombard you with numbers to prove our incontrovertible point; numbers carefully researched by a guy sitting at home in sweat pants reading The New York Times.

According to our crack research department, producing junk mail produces more carbon dioxide than nine million cars.

Now those readers who did not respond to Earth Hour's call last month to shut down all unnecessary lighting for one-hour by declaring in self-righteous (and mildly paranoid) defiance that you would turn on lights you don't even own, probably know that nasty old CO2 is the planet's number one greenhouse gas.

In fact, our (unwitting) research partners at the Times inform us here that a recent report by Forest Ethics -- with the fabulously clever title of "Do Not Mail: Climate Change Enclosed" -- found "mail advertisements create 51.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases each year — equivalent to the emissions generated by heating about 13 million homes during the winter, or mowing more than 20 billion lawns. "

Worse yet, only about 40 percent of junk mail gets recycled, probably because those of us who cannot afford to have our credit rating get any worse have to systematically shred each of those sounds-too-good-to-be-true-because-they-are credit card offers to prevent dumpster divers from stealing our slightly tarnished good name.

Those who (literally) bring you your junk mail, the U.S. Postal Service, are doing their part, installing 4,000 recycling stations near post office boxes so as much can be captured there as possible.

The Post Office is even urging direct mailers to follow their lead, providing a list of things they can do to green their product such as providing people the chance to "opt out" of being on their list and using recycled paper and biodegradable inks for their product.

But those direct mailers are a stubborn lot.

View here, if you have the stomach for it, an interview with Michael J. Critelli, 59, executive chairman of the mailing company Pitney Bowes, who uses a defense for junk mail that is as time-honored as it is disingenuous, best summarized as "we're not as bad as our competition."

Critelli argues that the trees used to make junk mail are replaced with new trees (so no harm, no foul); that junk mail makes up only 2 percent of landfill waste (what's 2 percent among friends?); and that spam, the bastard off-spring of junk mail, has an even greater environmental cost because of all the electricity those computer serves require.

All of which is completely true and, of course, completely besides the point.

To take the last point first, for this argument about spam to have weight, you have to assume that doing away with junk mail results in an increase in spam. We took a poll here at the Thin Green Line office tower complex and decided we could live with doing away with both. It also presumes we'll swallow in slack-jawed conformity that because the harm the other guy is causing is worse, we won't care about the harm you are doing.

This line of logic was dis-proved once and for all in the famous case of Crook Vs. Homeowner, renowned for the burglar's famous line, "hey pal, you should stop worrying that I'm stealing your TV, because I saw your neighbor kick your cat!"

Further, there is an environmental cost to harvesting those junk mail trees, replaced or not, and such mono-culture replants are rarely as diverse or as stable as old-growth forests; not to mention the greenhouse gases emitted by the chainsaws, loaders, helicopters (yes, we've seen it on The History Channel so it must be true) and paper mills.

Lastly, we doubt anyone would argue that reducing landfill waste by another two percent would be anything but a good thing.

Besides, how can you take seriously a guy who, when asked if some Americans like to get junk mail, replied "absolutely."

Forgive us, Mr. Critielli, if, when we ask ourselves this leading question -- "Do you think a guy whose salary is paid by junk mail will say anything to defend it no matter how damning the evidence of its harm?" -- we answer by saying "absolutely."

Now, if you all will excuse me, I have the clear the junk mail off my dining room table.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

New Life for Old Electronics

Your heart raced as you tore the paper off the package ... YES! that new iPod (or Blackberry, or computer, or MP3 player, or BIG SCREEN TV)! Santa came through big time.

Your hands trembling, you disconnect the old dinosaur (barely two years old) in your entertainment center, sweeping away the dust and accumulated DVDs and make room for your new baby...just in time for the SUPERBOWL!

Or how about this? The old Zenith won't get that new digital signal that starts next month, so rather than get the converter box, you decide it's time to get a new TV.

Or maybe you have heard such good things about Vista (OK, let's face it, that would never happen) that you've run out and purchased a new computer.

All of these scenarios have one question in common: What do you do with the old one?

Well, in a previous life, you would have put it at the curb, surprisingly still legal in Pennsylvania.

But what you may not know, or have chosen not to question, is that many electronics contain dangerous chemicals, heavy metals in particular.

Why are they potentially harmful? The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection informs us that electronic equipment contains metals like cadmium, lead and mercury.

  • Cadmium - The largest source of cadmium in municipal waste is rechargeable nickel-cadmium (NiCd) batteries.
  • Lead - Monitors and televisions contain a picture tube known as a cathode ray tube (CRT). The CRTs contain leaded glass, and are the largest source of lead in municipal waste.
  • Mercury - Some electronic equipment also contains recoverable quantities of mercury.
Electronic discards include computers, monitors, televisions, audio equipment, printers, and other electronic devices. Rapid advances in technology means that consumer electronics, particularly computers, are quickly rendered them obsolete. The average lifespan of a computer is about 2-3 years. (Here I must announced proudly that I still use a desktop that runs Windows '95. Honesty also requires that my son calls it "Old Bessie" and it is little more than a glorified typewriter at this point.)

Further, we all know that when it stops working right, the price of replacement parts or service often makes it more practical to simply buy a new one; which is all well and good, provided you can find a green way to get rid of the old one.

Well guess what, your friends here at The Thin Green Line are here to help.

Having finally regained consciousness after being bludgeoned insensate by an overdose of holiday consumerism, we sent our massive team of expert researchers into the field to answer these crucial questions.

(In other words, Evan spent a few minutes surfing Web. This really isn't that hard people!)

One answer is to be found from the very same DEP that warns us about the potential pollution from the old Victrola.

Their first suggestion, contained in a Dec. 30 release that landed in The Mercury in-box, is a pretty good one. If it works, find someone else you can give it to.

Free-cycle (more about this in a later blog) is one way to do it, although you might also call The Mercury's Sound-Off line (610-323-3009) and leave a message. Someone will surely want it.

The good news is there are a number of locations around the state where electronics can be dropped off for recycling. The bad news is there are none in the immediate area, with the exception of Jim Crater's Recycling Services Inc. in North Coventry which will take some electronics for re-sale.

You can go to the DEP Web site, -- and search under "Electronics Collection Program," or call one of their hotlines, 800-346-4242, or 717-787-7382 to find out where, but why do that, when we've already done it for you?

  • Philadelphia County - Philadelphia now has two permanent drop off collections sites for electronics recycling. Hours are Monday - Saturday 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. The sites are located at:
    Domino Lane and Umbria Street- Roxborough
    State Road and Ashburner Street
    Questions can be directed to Scott McGrath at 215-686-5504
  • Lehigh County residents can recycle unwanted electronic equipment at AERC Recycling Solutions at 1801 Union Blvd in Allentown on the 2nd and 4th Friday of each month from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fee to recycle most items is $1 and televisions are $5. For a full list of prices or for more information please call 610-797-7608 or visit
  • Lancaster County (computers only) - Residents of Lancaster County can recycle their computers for NO CHARGE. This includes associated items such as monitors, printer and keyboards.
    Small businesses can recycle up to 25 computers. The first five will be recycled for NO CHARGE; after that there is a $5 fee for each monitor and a $5 fee for each CPU.
    Computers will be accepted at the Household Hazardous Waste Facility, located at 1299 Harrisburg Pike. Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. until 3 p.m. 2nd & 4th Saturday of each month 8 a.m. until noon. 717-397-9968

If the item you're tossing is smaller, guess who else can help? Would you believe the Post Office?

In April, the Post Office launched a pilot program that "allows customers to recycle small electronics and inkjet cartridges by mailing them free of charge."

Called the "Mail Back Program," you just go to the post office and use free envelopes located there to mail back inkjet cartridges, PDAs, Blackberries, digital cameras, iPods and MP3 players – without having to pay for postage. Postage is paid for by Clover Technologies Group, a company that recycles, remanufactures and remarkets inkjet cartridges, laser cartridges and small electronics.

If the electronic item or cartridges cannot be refurbished and resold, its component parts are reused to refurbish other items, or the parts are broken down further and the materials are recycled, according to the Post Office. Clover Technologies Group has a “zero waste to landfill” policy: it does everything it can to avoid contributing any materials to the nation’s landfills.

The free, postage-paid Mail Back envelopes can be found on displays in Post Office lobbies. There is no limit to the number of envelopes customers may take.

According to an April release, "The pilot is set for 10 areas across the country, including Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles and San Diego, but could become a national program this fall if the pilot program proves successful. "

Our crack research team was unable to find any information about whether the program is available everywhere or not. Maybe someone will let us know.

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