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.

Letters still matter!

Elizabeth Renzetti of Canada’s Globe and Mail comes to the defense of Canada Post’s striking workers by waxing poetic about the importance of letters in today’s speedy, technology-saturated world.

She was surprised by the number of snail mail haters coming out of the woodwork to say they didn’t care if the Post was on strike, that snail mail was a dinosaur that had had its day.  Not so, she says:

Nobody has ever felt their eyes well up at the arrival of a tweet. No one is going to be clutching a bundle of tweets on their deathbed. E-mails are not redolent of old people’s sock drawers, the way envelopes containing birthday money are. Facebook is a fusillade of vacation photos and cat miscellany, but a letter is a guided missile to one person’s heart. Maybe it’s not the hard work of writing letters that accounts for their rarity these days, but the privacy of the sentiments they contain.

Right on Elizabeth!

For those of you living in the U. S., go out and take advantage of our fully operational U. S. Postal Service and send a “guided missile” of a letter to your loved one.

Buy some postage, save a tiger

The U. S. Postal Service recently announced they will issue a new semipostal stamp.  Semipostals allow stamp users to pay more for the stamp (55 cents rather than 44 cents) and the extra 11 cents funds a good cause.  You may be familiar with the current breast cancer research stamps.  Funds raised from the new stamp will help save vanishing species like elephants, rhinos and tigers.

From the press release:

The Save Vanishing Species stamp, which can be preordered beginning today at, features an illustration of a tiger cub by artist Nancy Stahl. The artwork on the full sheet of 20 stamps is dark green and includes silhouettes of a rhinoceros, a tiger, a gorilla, Asian and African elephants and a marine turtle. …

Five million sheets of stamps will be printed initially and reprints will be based on customer demand. The stamps will sell for 11 cents greater than a First Class Mail stamp — 55 cents — and $11 for a sheet of 20.

…Three semipostal stamps have been issued by the U.S. Postal Service and today only the Breast Cancer Research stamp is available:

  • Breast Cancer Research, 1998–current. Net proceeds of more than $74.1 million to date have gone to the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense.
  • Heroes of 2001, 2002–2004. Net proceeds of $10.5 million went to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. No longer available.
  • Stop Family Violence, 2003–2006. Net proceeds of $3.1 million went to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. No longer available.

Here’s a shot of the stamp (pic courtesy of the USPS):

The semi-postal stamps don’t go on sale until this September, but you can pre-order the stamps online from the U. S. Postal service here. Cool stamps and helping endangered species, what a winning combination!

What can Google do for snail mail?

Politico reports on an upcoming meeting between snail mail industry leaders and tech folks like Google.  The meeting is designed to help the U.S. Postal Service think outside the mailbox about postal delivery’s future. 

The line that made me shiver a bit was “if it can be digital, it will be digital.”  It made me think of a future where all the information we get will be digital and sending and receiving physical letters through the mail will truly be a thing of the past.  What if the post office has to scale back its operation significantly and it becomes prohibitively expensive to send and receive letters–like in the early days of the postal service, when sending a letter cost more than average folks could afford?

Makes me sad even thinking about it!  So, while we still can, and do so inexpensively, send some snail mail to your friends and loved ones.  You won’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone!

Embrace the snail

I was reading about the U.S. Postal Service planning to close a lot of post offices to make up for the serious budget shortfall they’re facing (something like 8 billion dollars!).  Somewhere in newspaper sites I was perusing, I saw an interview with a postal worker who was upset about people calling mail sent by post “snail mail.”  I’m sure postal workers are sensitive about a long history of being teased for slow service…


(picture snagged from Less Doing blog).

Well, first, I have generally found the post office to be quite efficient lately.  Mail gets across the country in just a couple days.  So it’s not something they should really be sensitive about.  But I would also like the postal service to embrace the “snail” in snail mail and recognize that they are different from email because they are the carriers of handwritten letters, beautifully crafted mail art, and fun care packages.  Email doesn’t hold a candle to these items.

So, “embrace the snail!” I say. 

Speaking of snail…my posts are going to be sparse in the coming couple of weeks because I will be traveling to France.  I hope to have lots of France-themed blog postings when I return.  I have scouted out some stationery stores and will share my finds with you when I return.  In the meantime…go write some letters!

Camera mail

I just heard about “camera mail” where folks have been sending disposable cameras attached to post cards through the mail and asking the people who move the mail from sender to recipient to snap photos of the process.

You can check out one man’s photographic results of his camera mail experiment.  They show the inner workings of the postal service.  They don’t look all that different from the stamps in my last post. Check out those piles of mail!

For those of you so inclined, here are some tips on sending camera mail.

For folks looking for other fun things to do with a disposable camera, here are 20 ideas (which is where I found out about camera mail in the first place).  Enjoy!

Snail mail…

In the 1960s, the U.S. Postal Service used the term “snail mail” in their advertisements to encourage people to adopt the use of the zip code…

According to the wikipedia entry for “snail mail,” these adverts were placed in many popular magazines, but I could only find this one image during a short exploration of the web. Thanks to Orange Crate Art for posting the pic I couldn’t find anywhere else!

Snail mail tips and insights from the pros

Helpful hints and interesting insights from our intrepid mail carriers here.

My favorite is number 7: Paychecks, personal cards, letters—anything that looks like good news—I put those on top. Utility and credit card bills? They go under everything else.

With all the letters I’ve gotten lately, I noticed my mail carrier put them on top.  It’s so nice to see them first thing when I open the mailbox! It’s also nice to be shielded, even if momentarily, from the less pleasant pieces of snail mail.  Thanks Mr. Mailman.