In Defense of Paper

Given the trends toward going paperless–in offices, with bank statements, with e-readers–many have declared that paper is dead (or is at least in its final throes of the dying process).

Well, paper makers are going on the offensive and stating their case for paper.  Domtar’s “Paper Because” campaign caught my eye recently with a full-page ad in a magazine:

The ad says: “Paper because it’ll be remembered longer on paper.”

The copy at the bottom states: “The first book ever published was the Gutenberg Bible. Printed in the 1450s, 21 complete copies still exist today, 550 years later.”

And then it points people to a website:

Intrigued, I visited the site.  It is hosted by Domtar, a paper manufacturer, so at first I thought this website might be something like those “high-fructose-corn-syrup-is-good-for-you” websites created by the country’s corn farmers–that there was a distinct conflict of interest that may encourage them to provide lopsided evidence.

And that may be true, I haven’t done any investigative journalism on Domtar or all of the facts presented to rule that out.  But this website provides detailed information about Domtar’s paper manufacturing plants, the sources of the pulp, the environmental impact of their different lines of paper, and some myth vs. fact information that seems compelling.

But the website moves beyond Domtar and into a general plea for the public to appreciate the purposes and pleasures of paper.  They give a nice shout out, for example, about the joys of receiving a hand-addressed envelope in the mail.

An introduction, written in the form of a letter from “paper” to the general public, shares various factoids and one gave me pause.  It pertained to “advertising mail,” which we lay people know as junk mail.

Paper creates jobs in communities where people need them most. More than 3.5 million Americans have jobs that directly or indirectly depend on advertising mail — and many more work in companies that process and manufacture paper. It’s also a critical component of the mail system, accounting for nearly 50% of U.S. mail. So not only does paper make it possible to quickly send a letter to someone you love — it also ensures you still have access to six-day-a-week service, and low postage prices.

So my personal war on junk mail is actually–counter to my purposes on this blog–killing snail mail!  Those of us who love to send and receive physical mail and also want to reduce unnecessary waste are caught in a bind.

Well, there is hope.  It turns out that the U. S. Postal Service has been increasingly reliant on “advertising mail” in recent years as mail sent with first class stamps (i.e. personal letters!) has declined dramatically. Bloomberg Businessweek’s May 26th cover story (titled “The U. S. Postal Service Nears Collapse”) reported:

[The U. S. Postal Service] relies on first-class mail to fund most of its operations, but first-class mail volume is steadily declining—in 2005 it fell below junk mail for the first time. This was a significant milestone. The USPS needs three pieces of junk mail to replace the profit of a vanished stamp-bearing letter.

So, if we bought and used more 44 cent, first-class postage, we could fight unwanted advertising mail without having to cripple the USPS.

To save snail mail, the environment, and your relationships with folks out of town, send your first-class mail out today! There are some very cool stamps available for purchase right now to do just that.  I’ll share my favorites in a post soon.

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