The Guide To America's Mailstream
Peter : Postal2020.com
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Archive for Peter

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How Targeting & Technology Changed The Ad Game

Targeting & Technology Change Mail Game New figures from advertising authority Robert Coen show that advertisers used mail at record levels in 2007.

Mail spending rose 4.0 percent in 2007 to $60.998 billion, according to Coen, senior vice president, director of forecasting with Universal McCann, one of the largest advertising agencies in the world,

In the December 2007 issue of his “Insider’s Report,” Coen
said that advertisers spent $283.88 billion on all media in 2007, a .07 percent increase over 2006. In effect, mail continues to represent one of every five dollars spent by U.S. advertisers.

Coen said Internet advertising increased 20 percent in 2007 to $10.92 billion — about one-sixth of the dollars spent with the mailstream. Newspapers took in $42.94 billion, down substantially from the $47.71 billion spent in 2006.

For 2008 Coen estimates that total ad spending will grow by 3.7 percent to $294.38 billion. expenditures for ad mail will grow at an even stronger pace. Coen predicts that for 2008 advertisers will spend $63.73 billion advertising through the mailstream, up 4.5 percent over 2007.

The fact is that advertisers will spend more money on direct mail than on promotions through radio, newspapers, magazines, network television, cable TV or the Internet.

“Madison Avenue,” says Business Week, “came of age as a content supplier to mass media and remains much better versed in making 30-second TV spots than in exploiting the interactive intricacies of the Internet. What is more, in the same way that network TV’s dominance of media is eroding, advertising’s dominance of marketing is diminishing. Marketers are increasing their spending on telemarketing, direct mail, e-mail, in-store displays, and other forms of closely targeted, nonmedia spending.” (See: “The Vanishing Mass Market,” July 12, 2004)

For advertisers, there is a use and value for all forms of media. Each media option offers something unique, and in a country with an $11 trillion economy everyone benefits when there are numerous media choices.

But why the interest in mail?

Advertisers today want to reach specific publics. For instance, a local pizza store may want to reach everyone in a given ZIP code while a company that sells ski boots may only want to reach households with a given income level in communities where snow is common six months a years.

The availability of consumer and business data, advanced software, computers and market segmentation allow advertisers to target their messages with great precision. And when messages are carefully targeted, it becomes possible to obtain higher response rates and lower costs per sale. In other words, mail is popular because advertisers get strong returns for each dollar they spend.

Targeting offers other benefits as well.

  • With careful targeting consumers are likely to receive fewer irrelevant ads. They will increasingly receive only those ads which most closely relate to their buying patterns and preferences.
  • In an age of heightened environmental awareness, targeting can lower material consumption and yet produce the same number of sales.
  • Advertising mail is the most democratic medium of all. You don’t need a $10 million campaign to start an advertising mail program. Individuals, small businesses, charities and growing companies can all find advertising mail programs that fit their budgets — and the same is also true for unions, political campaigners, environmental groups, consumer organizations and religious congregations.

Does ad mail targeting work? You bet.

According to the Postal Service consumers read 78 percent of the advertising mail they receive, nearly 10 percent respond to offers, and 21 percent bring coupons and ad mail with them when they shop.

The new emphasis on targeting can be seen in ad mail volume:

For example, between fiscal 1996 and 2007, ad mail volume increased from 71.7 billion pieces to 103.516 billion — a huge gain, especially given the growth of email and online communication in general.

What is the future of ad mail? Given universal delivery six days a week as well as competitive pricing, ad mail offers much potential. After all, how else can you securely reach more than 148 million physical addresses?

Mail Means 8,300,000 Jobs Inside Our Borders

Mail Means 8,300,000 Jobs Inside Our BordersOne of the largest industries in America is virtually unknown, yet it anchors more than 8,300,000 jobs and is related to the production of goods and services worth $1.2 trillion. (For details, see the 2008 Economic Jobs Study Final Report)

The postal system in this country is so important that it’s actually included in the U.S. Constitution — Section 8 says that only Congress shall have the power to “establish post offices and post roads.”

Why Congress? And why not the states? Because the Founders knew that unlike the situation in Europe, a single postal system with one set of standards and one set of prices could bind the national together. All citizens, no matter where they lived, would pay the same fee for the same services.

No less important, the U.S. postal system requires no payments from recipients. We have a sender-funded delivery system, meaning that senders take all the financial risk when they send materials through the mailstream. (In contrast, email recipients pay  and that’s why it doesn’t matter if a spammer broadcasts 10 messages or a million emails, the cost is about the same.)

This is a site which says that the mailstream is important to the country, that we as a Nation are not so wealthy that we can afford to lose millions of jobs inside our borders and that a reasonable discussion of the mailing system is helped by the availability of factual information and data.

Ecology: Why Every Major Green Group Uses Mail

Ecology: Why Every Major Green Group Uses MailEvery major environmental and consumer organization uses the mailstream to raise money, gain members, promote causes and distribute information. Larger groups send out tens of millions of items annually.

When asked if Greenpeace was contributing to the nation’s environmental problems because the group uses direct mail, Peter Bahouth, a former Greenpeace executive director, once told ABC News that “accusing environmental groups of paper pollution is a bit like saying that we need to get the ambulances off the street because they’re loud.”

You can check for yourself by looking at the IRS Form 990 which most non-profit organizations are required to make available to the public. More than 1.5 million non-profit groups are listed at GuideStar.org, and many post their Form 990s for public review.

Why do major ecology groups use the mails? Just take a look at mail and the waste stream.

How much garbage is produced each year?

According to the latest-available figures from the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States produces 13 billion tons of nonhazardous solid waste each year. The EPA calls this material Subtitle D waste. (See: RCRA: Reducing Risk From Waste, EPA, EPA530-K-97-004, September 1997, page 5.)

Thirteen billion tons in the mid-1990s! That seems impossible. Is there an environmental organization with similar numbers?

Yes. As an example, Greenpeace has research showing that we produced 11.3 billion tons of Subtitle D waste in the 1980s.

The United States,” says the Natural Resources Defense Council, “produces between 12 and 14 billion tons of waste annually. This includes mining waste, oil and gas waste, agricultural waste, hazardous waste, food-processing residues, demolition debris, incinerator ash, and medical waste, in addition to municipal waste. The management of most of this waste is not regulated by U.S. federal law — it is exempt — and of the total, municipal waste accounts for only about 210 million tons.” (See: Too Good To Throw Away: Recycling’s Proven Record, Chapter 2)

The problem, of course, is that more recent Subtitle D figures are needed to better understand waste issues, information which the EPA has not made available to the public.

What is municipal solid waste?

In general terms, “municipal solid waste” or “MSW” can be seen as a limited number of items which are part of the overall waste stream. As the EPA explains: “our trash is made up of the things we commonly use and then throw away. These materials range from packaging, food scraps, and grass clippings to old sofas, computers, tires, and refrigerators. It does not include industrial, hazardous, or construction waste.” (See: Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2006, EPA, page 2)

Does MSW equal all the stuff that goes into local landfills?

No. Although omitted from the 2006 MSW report, the EPA has plainly stated in the past that “some people assume that ‘municipal solid waste’ must include everything that is landfilled in Subtitle D landfills,” but this is NOT correct. (See: Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2005, EPA, page 25)

“It has been common practice,” says the EPA, “to landfill wastes such as municipal sludges, nonhazardous industrial wastes, residue from automobile salvage operations, and construction and demolition debris along with MSW.” (See: Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2005, EPA, page 25)

But wait a minute. Doesn’t the EPA say that the number of landfills has declined substantially during the past decade?

The EPA says two things: “while the number of U.S. landfills has steadily declined over the years, the average landfill size has increased.” It also states that “since 1990, the total volume of MSW going to landfills dropped by 4 million tons, from 142.3 million to 138.2 million tons in 2006.” (See: Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2006, EPA, page 8)

In other words, older, smaller and less ecology-secure landfills are being replaced with a small number of larger sites which can benefit from new technologies and better management.

While the volume of MSW material thrown away has dropped by 4 millions tons per year, the amount of available landfill capacity is actually growing. As The New York Times has reported:

“It became clear in the early 1990’s that there was a glut of disposal space, not the widely believed shortage that had drawn headlines in the 1980’s.

“Although many town dumps had closed, they were replaced by fewer, but huge, regional ones. That sent dumping prices plunging in many areas in the early 1990’s and led to a long slump in the waste industry.

“Since then the industry and its followers have been relying on time — about 330 million tons of trash went into landfills in the United States last year alone, according to Solid Waste Digest, a trade publication — to fill up some of those holes, erase the glut and send disposal prices skyward again. Instead, dump capacity has kept growing, and rapidly, even as only a few new dumps were built.” (See: Rumors of a Shortage of Dump Space Were Greatly Exaggerated, August 12, 2005)

Where can I get more information regarding the landfill glut?

Press here to see our complete report.

How much MSW is there?

While the overall waste stream consists of some 13 billion tons of nonhazardous materials, MSW is just a small fraction of that amount. In 2006 we generated 251.3 million tons of MSW — 1.93 percent of the non-hazardous waste stream. (See: Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2006, EPA, page 7)

Do 251.3 million tons of MSW go into landfills?

No. MSW in 2005 included 251.3 million tons of material before recycling, composting and energy recovery. The amount left to landfill was 138.2 million tons. (See: Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2006, EPA, page 9)

Aren’t we landfilling more MSW than ever?

No. MSW generation is down. Recycling and composting are both up. The result is that MSW landfill use has declined.

For instance, the EPA reports that we landfilled 138.2 million tons of material in 2006 — that’s down from 142.3 million tons in 1990 — a time when we had 50 million fewer people. (See: Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2006, EPA, page 9)

How long will it take to pack our landfills with MSW?

More than MSW goes into landfills, so the issue involves a wider array of waste than MSW by itself. No less important, we are now adding landfill capacity faster than we are using it.

The New York Times has reported that between 2001 and 2005 the nation’s three largest trash collectors — Waste Management, Allied Waste Industries and Republic Services — “buried 882 million tons of waste. But the remaining permitted capacity of their combined 410 dumps did not shrink. It expanded over those four years by more than one billion tons. The three companies now expect expansions of another 1.8 billion tons. At that level, their combined capacity could handle the nation’s trash sent to dumps for about 26 years.” (See: Rumors of a Shortage of Dump Space Were Greatly Exaggerated, August 12, 2005)

Not only are the three largest private companies increasing landfill capacity, the same is also true for other private and public facilities. This is happening because we are landfilling less and also because landfill technology is improving — we can get 30 percent more stuff into a given amount of landfill space than in the past, according to the Times. Equally important in the case of paper-based materials, scrap that used to be landfilled is now being exported to China. In fact, in 2007 the Chinese bought scrap paper worth more than $2 billion from the U.S.

Will we soon run out of landfill capacity?

No. In their most-recent annual reports, the three major collection and disposal companies told the Securities and Exchange Commission that they have enough landfill capacity today to last for decades — without further expansion.

We will develop new landfill sites using the latest and best environmental techniques — certainly as good as the technologies we use today and no doubt better. However, efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle should continue not only because they limit landfill needs, but because such practices are inherently good for the environment and for us all.

If annual Subtitle D waste totals 13 billion tons or more, why have we not run out of landfill space already?

Because much of the “waste stream” is nonhazardous industrial and production water, mining debris and agricultural waste that is left in place and not landfilled.

Is there any source which shows billions of tons of Subtitle D waste broken into categories by weight?

Yes. An official 1988 EPA study entitled, “Report to Congress: Solid Waste Disposal in the United States,” (EPA/530-SW-88-011) details Subtitle D categories. On page 11, Volume 1, is a table showing more than 11,387 billion tons of waste, including 158 million tons of MSW. In 1988, of course, we had a population of just 244,498,982 people, far fewer than today.

How much MSW is in the form of paper products?

Paper and paperboard products amounted to 85.29 million tons in 2006. However, paper-based products have traditionally had high recovery levels. While the general recovery rate for MSW is 32.5 percent, the recovery rate for paper-based products is 51.6 percent — meaning 44.02 million tons were diverted from America’s landfills. (See: 2006 MSW Characterization Data Tables, EPA, table 2)

Given that we live in the Internet era, wouldn’t it make sense avoid all landfill issues and just use email? After all, with email there’s no environmental impact.

The presumption that email has no environmental impact is simply untrue.

According to the Scientific American, “e-mailing, number crunching and Web searches in the U.S. consumed as much as 61 billion kilowatt-hours last year, or 1.5 percent of the nation’s electricity — half of which comes from coal. In 2005 the computers of the world ate up 123 billion kilowatthours of energy, a number that will double by 2010 if present trends continue, according to Jonathan Koomey, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. As a result, the power bill to run a computer over its lifetime will surpass the cost of buying the machine in the first place — giving Internet and computer companies a business reason to cut energy costs, as well as an environmental one.” (See: Digital Diet, April 2008)

Not only is energy consumption a concern, so is landfill usage. PC Magazine offers these examples:

___”A pile of our obsolete computers could make a 22-story mountain that covers the entire 472 square miles of the city of Los Angeles.”

___”Three billion units of consumer electronics potentially will become scrap between 2003 and 2010. That’s nine gadgets thrown away for every person currently living in the U.S.”

___”As little as 0.014 gram of mercury is enough to contaminate the fish in a 20-acre lake. The 300 million computers that have already been discarded contain enough mercury (about 0.5 gram each) to poison the Great Lakes eight times over.”

___”Nearly every large electronics and semiconductor manufacturer that began operations in the 1970s or earlier has an EPA Superfund site (deemed the worst toxic waste sites) in its history. Forty-one million Americans live within 4 miles of one of these sites.” (See: Measuring America’s E-Waste, March 17, 2008)

The important point, of course, is that email offers great value and utility, but email — like every other product and service — is not environmentally cost-free.

How much advertising mail is included within MSW?

Advertising mail totals 5.89 million tons before recycling. However, 2.28 million tons is recycled, a recovery rate of 38.7%. (See: 2006 MSW Characterization Data Tables, EPA, table 4)

So how much of the waste stream is advertising mail?

Using EPA data, as a Nation we have 13 billion tons of Subtitle D waste. We also have — before recovery — 5.89 million tons of advertising mail. In the worst case, advertising mail thus represents 0.000453 of the waste stream — about 5/10,000ths. After recycling, of course, the percentage is even lower.

How can we increase the percentage of advertising mail saved by recycling?

We now have thousands of local governments that collect paper — but not all paper. We would have significantly-higher recovery rates for ad mail if local communities collected all paper and not just newspapers. Given the worldwide demand for U.S. scrap paper, such enhanced collections would keep more material away from landfills while at the same time bringing additional money into the U.S.

The Truth About America’s Landfill Glut

The Truth About America’s Landfill GlutFor many years the media has published innumerable stories which worry that we are running out of landfill space. Such stories properly raise public concerns and have required virtually every community to look at landfill issues.

But if it’s fair to raise questions about landfill capacity then it’s equally fair to provide some answers. Are we running out of landfill space? The answer may be surprising.

According to much-quoted statistics from the Environmental Protection Agency, the number of landfills in the United States dropped from 7,924 in 1988 to 1,754 in 2006.

:Landfill Chart

Source: Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2006, EPA, page 8)

The EPA chart plainly shows that the number of landfills in the United States has fallen 77 percent since 1988. Given such a decline, the natural assumption is that a massive reduction in numbers must also mean that national landfill capacity has shrunk.

The problem: Such assumptions are not true.

The EPA states in its 2006 MSW study that “while the number of U.S. landfills has steadily declined over the years, the average landfill size has increased. At the national level, landfill capacity appears to be sufficient, although it is limited in some areas.” In fact, the EPA says that “since 1990, the total volume of MSW going to landfills dropped by 4 million tons, from 142.3 million to 138.2 million tons in 2006.” This is a remarkable figure when you consider that the U.S. population between 1990 and 2006 increased by more than 50 million people.

Our landfill supply nationwide has not merely increased, we have a vast overabundance. While the number of landfills has declined, the measure that counts — landfill capacity — has increased enormously.

Because we have a growing volume of nationwide landfill capacity, disposal costs are low. This is the best possible evidence that a landfill shortage does not exist and it’s also good news for local homeowners: If there really was a landfill shortage then local garbage disposal fees would soar.

Why do we have a landfill glut? Four reasons stand out:

1. Consolidation
2. Recovery
3. Technology
4. China: The New Market

Consolidation

The best example of changing landfill numbers occurred in Wisconsin. Between 1986 and 1991 the state closed 850 landfills, opened nine new ones and expanded 12 existing sites. The result? Landfill capacity in the state increased by 44.5 million cubic yards. (See: Landfill Capacity in North America, 1991 Update, National Solid Waste Management Association, table 3, page 4)

You can see where this leads. A scary headline will say “Wisconsin Lost 850 Landfills” but that’s plainly not the whole story. A more sensible headline would say “Wisconsin Lost 850 Landfills, Capacity Grew.”

The Wisconsin example explains why landfill numbers are falling. Older, less efficient and less environmentally secure landfills are being replaced by larger, more efficient and more environmentally safe facilities. In other words, if you replace 20 thimbles of milk with a single one-gallon jug, it doesn’t mean you can’t store more milk.

“It became clear in the early 1990’s that there was a glut of disposal space, not the widely believed shortage that had drawn headlines in the 1980’s,” says The New York Times.

“Although many town dumps had closed, they were replaced by fewer, but huge, regional ones. That sent dumping prices plunging in many areas in the early 1990’s and led to a long slump in the waste industry.

“Since then,” says the Times, “the industry and its followers have been relying on time — about 330 million tons of trash went into landfills in the United States last year alone, according to Solid Waste Digest, a trade publication — to fill up some of those holes, erase the glut and send disposal prices skyward again. Instead, dump capacity has kept growing, and rapidly, even as only a few new dumps were built.” (See: Rumors of a Shortage of Dump Space Were Greatly Exaggerated, August 12, 2005)

Three companies — Waste Management, Allied Waste Industries and Republic Services — collect more than half the nation’s trash. Rather than running out of landfill space, they have sufficient capacity to operate for decades assuming no further expansion of existing sites, no additional sites and no benefit from improved technology.

  • As of December 31, 2006, says Waste Management in its 2006 Annual Report, “the weighted average remaining landfill life for all of our owned or operated landfills is approximately 28 years.” This is an increase of one year when compared with the 2004 Annual Report.
  • “”We have a network of 161 owned or operated active landfills with remaining operating lives ranging from 1 to over 150 years,” according to the 2007 Allied Waste Industries annual report. “Based on available capacity using annual volumes, the average remaining life of our landfills approximates 38 years.”
  • Republic Services said in its 2007 Annual Report that it “owned or operated 58 landfills, which had 9,707 permitted acres and total available permitted and probable expansion disposal capacity of approximately 1.7 billion in-place cubic yards. It said “the average estimated remaining life of all of our landfills is 27 years.”

In fact, however, it would be short-sighted to assume that there will be no further capacity increases. As the Times points out, “in the last four years the three companies have “buried 882 million tons of waste. But the remaining permitted capacity of their combined 410 dumps did not shrink. It expanded over those four years by more than one billion tons. The three companies now expect expansions of another 1.8 billion tons.”

Recovery

During the past five decades American attitudes toward recycling and ecology radically changed. Concerns regarding green issues — once largely restricted to environmental activists — entered the mainstream and impacted such issues as automobile mileage, global warming and “smart” zoning.

Environmental concerns also influenced landfill policies and materials recovery. Figures from the EPA reflect a sea change in national thinking.

What we now know is that economic and population growth are both possible even as landfill usage declines. Figures from the 45-year period between 1960 and 2006 show a dramatic change in the way we reduce, re-use and recycle:

  • The generation of municipal solid waste almost tripled from 88.1 million tons to 251.3 million tons.
  • The volume of material landfilled amounted to 138.2 million tons in 2006 — that’s LESS than the volume of MSW landfilled in 1990 when the country had 50 million fewer people.
  • The amount of material landfilled per day per person in 2006 was less than the amount landfilled in 2000.

Combine reduced landfill usage with increased landfill capacity and the result is diminished demand for landfill space nationwide.

The bottom line? Despite a vast population increase, nationwide landfill use is down and materials recovery is up. Seen another way, a larger population is sending less to landfills. Efforts to reduce, reuse and recycle are paying off. No less important, with improved technology and increasing collection efforts, even better results may be possible.

EPA Chart

Source: Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal

in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2006, EPA, page 9

Technology

We not only have vastly larger landfills, we are not only putting less in them, we also use them more efficiently. A given amount of landfill space will hold about 30 percent more content today than in the past.

Waste companies and municipalities, says the Times are “burying trash more tightly, so that each ton takes up less space, increasingly using giant 59-ton compacting machines guided by global positioning systems that show the operator when he has rolled over a section of the dump enough times. They cover trash at the end of the day, to keep it from blowing away, with tarps or foam or lawn clippings instead of the thick layers of soil that formerly ate up dump capacity.” (See: Rumors of a Shortage of Dump Space Were Greatly Exaggerated, August 12, 2005)

We don’t know what benefits technology will provide in the future, but what we do know is this: To date landfill usage has become substantially more efficient due to better management practices. It is entirely possible and reasonable that in the future we will also see improved landfill efficiency, thus limiting the need for additional landfill capacity.

China: The New Market

The richest woman in China, Zhang Yin, is worth $3.4 billion. But unlike other Chinese entrepreneurs who have made their money by exporting to the West, Zhang built her fortune another way: She’s the “queen of waste paper,” China’s largest importer of scrap paper. (See: China’s Richest Woman: From Waste To Wealth, China Daily, November 20, 2006)

For many years there has been a growing and massive trade imbalance with China. For the period from 2000 through 2007, our balance of trade with China showed a loss of more than $1.2 trillion.

Not only is the trade imbalance growing, it is likely to increase as China begins to export big-ticket items such as cars, trucks and planes.

US-China Trade
Balance
Year Exports Imports Balance
2007 $65,238.3 $321,507.8 -$256,269.5
2006 $55,185.7 $287,77.4 -$232,588.6
2005 $41,925.3 $243,470.1 -$201,544.8
2004 $34,744.1 $196,682.0 -$161.938.0
2003 $28,367.9 $152,436.1 -$124,068.2
2002 $22,127.7 $125,192.6 -$103,064.9
2001 $19,182.3 $102,278.4 -$83,096.1
2000 $16,185.2 $100,018.2 -$83,833.0

All figures are in millions of U.S. dollars.
Source: Foreign Trade Statistics, U.S. Census Bureau

There is, however, one area where the U.S. is a major exporter to China. According to the U.S. International Trade Commission, “the United States shipped 7.7 million metric tons of waste paper to China in 2005.” Between 1995 and 2005, the USITC reports that “Chinese imports of wood pulp and waste paper from the United States increased by 500 percent over the same period, while imports of finished paper declined by 12 percent.” (See: The Effects of Increasing Chinese Demand on Global Commodity Markets, pages 1-4 and 4-14)

In the U.S. we measure large weights in terms of tons, however the measure used for waste paper exports by the USITC is metric tons. While a single U.S. ton weighs 2,000 pounds, a metric ton is substantially larger, weighing in at 2,204.62 pounds. In effect, the 7.7 million metric tons of scrap paper sent to China in 2005 is actually equal to 8,487,787 U.S. tons.

The huge and growing Chinese market for U.S. scrap paper created by Zhang and others has important landfill implications in the United States. The waste paper shipped to China each year for recycling into paper, cartons and other products represents nearly 8.5 million tons of paper that will not be deposited in American landfills. Instead, it will now bring needed dollars back to the U.S.

What is the value of the scrap paper we send to China? According to the U.S. International Trade Administration, U.S. scrap paper exports to China were worth almost $1.5 billion in 2007.

Mail, Trees & Common Sense

Many people are concerned with the preservation of forest land and with good reason: Forests are beautiful, they produce vast quantities of oxygen, they are home to innumerable animals and they are part of our heritage.

There’s no question that mail is regarded as a paper-based product, and so it’s fair to ask: How does the use of mail impact our forests?

To answer this question let’s go back to Adam Smith, the father of economics. In 1776 Smith said we are each guided by “the invisible hand of self-interest.” In other words, we each try to do the things that are best for us.

Now, imagine that you were the president of a paper company. Would you buy expensive wood or inexpensive wood to make paper? You would surely buy the least expensive wood possible — in fact, if it was possible you would buy no wood at all, you would recycle old paper to make new paper.

The bottom line is this: Timber is priced on the basis of its highest and best use. The most expensive woods are used for such purposes as building furniture and home construction. For a paper company, it makes no sense to bid for such timber.

What does make sense is to literally grow wood — to create tree farms where land can be seeded with the best stock, harvested years later and then re-planted. It’s a huge investment, but one that makes the most financial and ecological sense.

When it comes to forest lands, says The New York Times, “the acreage is essentially the same as it was a century ago, and there is over 30 percent more wood volume per acre than in 1952.” (See: Family Matters, Generational Shifts Loom for Big Tracks of American Woods, June 14, 2007)

Mail, Trees & Common Sense

One reason for the preservation of so much forest land is that tree farms have proven to be enormously successful:

___In 1957 the U.S. had 516 billion cubic feet of trees for growing stock. (See: 2003 National Report on Sustainable Forests, U.S. Forest Service, page 3)

___In 1997, the volume of trees for growing stock had increased 36 percent to 856 billion cubic square feet. (See: 2003 National Report on Sustainable Forests, U.S. Forest Service, page 3)

___In 2007, the U.S. had 925 billion cubic feet of growing stock, 79 percent more than in 1957 and 9.6 percent than in 1997.  (See:  Forest Inventory and Analysis RPA Assessment tables, U.S. Forest Service, preliminary study, Table 17, May, 2007)

“Deforestation in the United States, rampant in the 19th century has stopped,” says The New York Times. “Forested acreage of the country began rising in the 20th century, and is still rising. Why? Wood is no longer a primary fuel, while high-yield agriculture allowed millions of acres to be retired from farming and returned to trees.” (See: “There Goes the Neighborhood,” January 30, 2005)

It is estimated, says the U.S. Forest Service, that at the beginning of European settlement in 1630 “the area of forest land that would become the United States was 1,045 million acres or about 46 percent of the total land area. By 1907, the area of forest land had declined to an estimated 759 million acres or 34 percent of the total land area. Forest area has been relatively stable since 1907. In 1997, 747 million acres — or 33 percent of the total land area of the United States — was in forest land. Today’s forest land area amounts to about 70 percent of the area that was forested in 1630. Since 1630, about 297 million acres of forest land have been converted to other uses—mainly agricultural. More than 75 percent of the net conversion to other uses occurred in the 19th century.” (See: U.S Forest Facts and Historical Trends, U.S. Forest Service, page 3)

“The U.S. Agriculture Department,” according to ABC News, “says America has 749 million acres of forestland. In 1920, we had 735 million acres of forest. We have more forest now. How can that be? One reason is technology that allows us to grow five times more food per acre — so we need less farmland. Lots of what once was farmland has reverted to forest.”

Forest Land

“Forest land,” reports The New York Times, “hasn’t been shrinking at all — it’s been fairly stable since 1920 and has actually grown in the last decade.” (See: “Cheer Up, Earth Day Is Over,” April 23, 2006)

In fact, figures from the U.S. Forest Service confirm media reports: In May 2007 the Service estimated that the total amount of forest land in the U.S. amounted to 749,758 acres. To give perspective, the total land mass of the U.S. amounts to 2,263,952 acres. In effect, despite a vastly-larger population than in the past, one-third of the country is actually covered by forest land. (See:  Forest Inventory and Analysis RPA Assessment tables, U.S. Forest Service, preliminary study, Table 1, May, 2007)

So the next time you hear someone explain with great certainty that “mail hurts our forests,” ask: Why would it make any sense to use valuable trees for paper when far-cheaper alternatives are easily available? And why do we have more trees and more forest land than 50 years ago?

The Check Is Less Often In The Mail

The Check Is Less Often In The MailThe check is not in the mail — at least as not as often as it used to be.

Figures from the Federal Reserve show that “the number of checks paid in the United States has fallen from 42 billion in 2001, to 37 billion in 2003, and to 30 billion in 2006.”

Whoops. That’s 12 billion checks that vanished in just five years. You can bet that the trend continues and that future reports will show even fewer paper-based checks in 2008 and beyond.

Why is this a mailstream matter? Why are postal jobs at stake? Should the Postal Service be concerned?

In many cases the reduction in check volume reflects the increased use of electronic deposits. If this means that a foreman no longer goes around the plant floor on a Friday giving out envelopes then we do not have a postal issue in the sense of deliveries and such.

But many checks are sent through the mails. It’s difficult to imagine that we have 12 billion fewer checks and no mail volume reduction. Okay, it’s impossible to imagine.

The Postal Service and the mailer community cannot undo either progress or technology. But the question ought to be asked: If the volume represented by checks — those checks that really are in the mail — is being reduced, then what new volume is being created?

This is the essential issue for the mailer community. As postal volume declines and fixed expenses largely remain, increased hard costs per piece must be absorbed by remaining users. As prices per piece rise the incentive to avoid the postal system grows.

What to do? The Postal Service needs to demonstrate why paper-based communication and exchange have value in the electronic era. There’s a good argument to be made — if only someone would make it.

Would 40,000 Fewer Postal Jobs Be A Good Thing?

Would 40,000 Fewer Postal Jobs Be A Good Thing?In Shreveport, LA, television station KSLA is reporting that as many as 40,000 postal employees could lose their jobs.

“Lavelle Pepper with the post office in Shreveport says they too are feeling the affects of the same disease hitting the country… a struggling economy. ‘We employ about 685,000 people. If we do layoffs it would include clerks, carriers, mail handlers across all crafts.’”

“Pepper says the postal service is looking to eliminate 40,000 jobs nationwide. There’s not an exact number on how many of those could be from the Ark-La-Tex. Pepper says workers who are not part of union with six or less years of service would likely be the first on the chopping block. ‘We’ve identified 16 thousand people that are not covered under contract. We’ll see what those numbers add up to.’”

Meanwhile, on the usually well-regarded Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis, blogger Mish Shedlock mentions the story and then comments “I certainly am in favor of this.”

Really? I certainly am not.

How is anyone helped by the loss of 40,000 postal jobs? Or 40,000 jobs in any field? How is the country made better?

If 40,000 people lose their jobs that means a lot of local communities will see an increase in unemployment costs and foreclosures. A lot of households and families will suffer. Home values — even for Mish’s home — will fall as the inventory of locally-foreclosed properties increases. There will be fewer people to pay taxes meaning higher taxes for those who do pay or reduced public services.

And no, people cannot just be instantly retrained.

We have to change the way we think. Given that two-thirds of our economy is based on consumer spending we ought to hope that everyone has a job and that everyone has access to education and training so they can get a better job. Alternatively, if we favor lots and lots of job losses we’ll soon have an economy where most of the population will live in poverty or something close to it. That sure doesn’t sound like fun and anyone who has been to a poor country would agree.

Until this point the Postal Service has generally reduced its workforce through attrition and retirements — in other words, without layoffs. The Federal Times has reported that this policy MAY change with the elimination of 250 jobs at headquarters.

Moreover, in July the Postal Service sought a Voluntary Early Retirement Authority (VERA) from the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Note the expression Voluntary Early Retirement. Not lay-offs. Not firings. Rather a continuation of past policies.

There is a huge difference between 40,000 voluntary separations and a reported 250 lay-offs. This is not to say that 250 job losses are somehow good, but rather that no one is thinking in terms of 40,000 lay-offs.

Indeed, the Postal Service has just issued this statement:

“A news story currently in wide circulation is reporting that the Postal Service will soon layoff 40,000 employees. This story is not accurate. Originating out of Shreveport, LA, the story does quote a Postal Service spokesperson. Unfortunately, that spokesperson was in error. The Postal Service is not laying off employees. Efforts to match our workforce to a reduced workload are focused on voluntary early retirements. Voluntary early retirement has been offered to a number of employees and to date, 3,685 employees have accepted the offer.”

Mail, AARP & 53 Million Trees

Mail, AARP & 53 Million TreesAccording to the AARP Bulletin, “the 19 billion catalogs mailed to Americans every year consume 3.6 million tons of paper and 53 million trees.” (See May 2008, Page 25)

Such a short sentence. Can it be true?

Let’s see, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, advertising mail (also known as “Standard A” mail) totals 5.89 million tons before recycling. However, 2.28 million tons are recycled, a recovery rate of 38.7%. (See: 2006 MSW Characterization Data Tables, EPA, table 4).

So, if we subtract 2.28 million tons from 5.89 million tons we get 3.61 million tons of advertising mail.

Does this mean that 3.6 million tons of material was made from trees? Nope. Not hardly. Much of what goes through the mailstream comes from recycled materials.

Not only that, but not all advertising mail consists of “catalogs.” According to the U.S. Postal Service, Standard A mail includes printed matter, flyers, circulars and advertising; newsletters, bulletins and catalogs; and small packages.

But let’s say there are 19 billion catalogs. How much ad mail is sent out each year?

According to the 2007 annual report of the U.S. Postal Service and there we can see that 103.5 billion pieces of ad mail went through the mailstream.

Nineteen billion items sure seems like a small part of 103.5 billion items, which means that it’s not possible for 19 billion catalogs to use 3.6 million tons of paper unless flyers, circulars, newspapers and such suddenly weigh nothing.

Now, about those trees:

If we have 3.6 million tons of ad mail, and if each ton weighs 2,000 pounds, that would mean we have 7,200,000,000 pounds of material. If it takes 53 million trees to make 7.2 billion pounds of paper then an average “tree” weighs just 135.84 pounds!

Does this make sense to anyone?

According to AARP’s 2005 IRS Form 990, the association spent $108.3 million on “printing and shipping.”

AARP says that its “more than 36 million members receive ‘AARP The Magazine,’ which is published every other month (bimonthly)” and that “all members also receive 11 issues of ‘AARP Bulletin,’ a monthly publication (July and August are combined).”

That’s six magazines per year x 36,000,000 or 216,000,000 million magazines annually plus 11 bulletins per year x 36,000,000 or 396,000,000 bulletins — a total of 612,000,000 paper-based items sent through the mailstream per year.

Surely if AARP is worried about teeny micro trees it could shut off its own distribution torrent and rebate $100 million or so to its members. Otherwise it ought to explain why using the mail is okay for AARP — but not okay for others. It should also explain what will happen to stamp prices if advertisers leave the mailstream.

Most importantly, if mail volume is reduced AARP should explain what will happen to the jobs inside our borders that are anchored by the mailstream. As The Washington Post has explained:

“The Postal Service has about 738,000 employees, relies on revenue from operations rather than taxpayer funding and is one of few federal bureaucracies with which most Americans have regular contact. It is at the center of a $900 billion mailing industry, which employs 9 million people in such businesses as direct mail, paper manufacturers and printers.”

Here’s An Envelope You Can Really Plant

Here’s An Envelope You Can Really PlantI got something in the mail the other day that you don’t often see: An envelope suitable for planting.

No kidding, this was an envelope sent by PowerOfEnvelopes.org and saturated with seeds. All you do is place the envelope in the ground, add water and Nature will take care of the rest.

We sometimes forget the envelopes provide important values in the communication process. Mail is a tactile medium that you can touch and hold. It offers the benefits of utility, economy, authenticity, and universality. Words on paper are real, and so are signatures and sentiments. Envelopes, in particular, convey privacy and security. They are socially inviolate.

In fact, research from the Envelope Manufacturers Association Foundation shows that:

___84% of consumers says envelopes leave a memorable impression.

___Three out of four people prefer bills when sent inside an envelope.

___Americans are three times more likely to pay attention to direct mail sent to their homes than to unsolicited email, Internet banners or pop-up ads, telephone calls, text messages and at-home visits combined.

As to that envelope I received, I have a great place in the garden which could use a few more flowers.

Should We Close Local Post Offices On Saturdays?

Should We Close Local Post Offices On Saturdays?According to an editorial in the Observer-Reporter (Washington, PA), it’s time to end Saturday postal deliveries.

“The recent increase in the cost of a first-class postage stamp from 41 cents to 42 cents was hardly surprising, compared to the increased in the cost of gasoline, food and just about everything else,” said the paper.

“It could have easily been avoided, however. All the U.S. Postal Service needs to do to drastically cut expenses and the necessity for several future postal-rate increases is one simple thing: Eliminate Saturday delivery.”

And why should Saturday deliveries be curtailed?

“Just think of the amount of fuel that would not be burned if mail were not delivered on Saturdays,” said the paper.

“Most people,” continued the Observer-Reporter, “communicate with friends and family by e-mail now. Many receive and pay bills online. Most of what arrives in the mailbox these days is just junk mail, anyway.”

The thought that the Postal Service could cut costs by ending Saturday deliveries is no different than suggesting that hospital expenses could be reduced if only the emergency room was shut down on weekends.

The Postal Service has a high percentage of fixed costs — all those people, vehicles and local post offices. If local post offices are closed on Saturdays it means there is less volume to support the system but many of the fixed costs remain in place — you still need a given number of people, vehicles and facilities to reach almost 150 million physical addresses.

The Observer-Reporter says “most of what arrives in the mailbox these days is just junk mail, anyway.” In other words, advertising mail.

How is paper-based advertising sent through the mailstream any different than paper-based advertising delivered by the Observer-Reporter? Would the Observer-Reporter agree that it could cut its costs and save paper if only it would not carry advertising inserts one day a week? Think of all the fuel used by delivery trucks that could be saved if the Observer-Reporter published less often. Would not such economies please owners and shareholders?

A lot of newspapers and magazines go through the mailstream. In fiscal 2007, according to the Postal Service, 8.8 billion newspapers and magazines were delivered by mail.

Many communication companies that publish newspapers also have subsidiaries to market through the mailstream. Indeed, many newspapers offer “Total Market Coverage” plans that include postal deliveries. Surely it would not be good for TMC programs if the local post office was shut down on Saturdays.

Some TMC programs are huge. The Newspaper Association of America says that 3,520,000 million piece per week are delivered in Los Angeles, 2,385,371 in Chicago and 570,000 in Miami.

If advertising through the mailstream is not effective or productive, does it not make sense that advertisers would go elsewhere? Should not the marketplace decide such issues? In fact, according to Robert Coen, senior vice president, director of forecasting with Universal McCann, the huge advertising agency, advertisers in the world, advertisers now spend more marketing through the mailstream than through newspapers.

In the December 2007 issue of his “Insider’s Report,” Coen said that advertisers spent $60.998 billion with mail marketing in 2007 versus $42.94 billion with newspapers.

Although the Observer-Reporter is surely concerned by 42 cent stamps it somehow fails to mention the rates paid by newspapers — 13.6 to 16.8 cents per piece, according to the Newspaper Association of America.

The fact is that the U.S. marketplace is vast and all forms of advertising should be welcomed and encouraged because they stimulate sales and create jobs. That’s good for the economy, good for local communities and good for readers in Washington, PA.