Holiday Clutter – Waste is Always Regrettable

Christmas Catalog covers

We are already entering that time of year, when our waste paper recycling bin overflows quickly. I don’t really have any solutions, beyond recycling them. I do find them useful for “browsing”. A bit like walking the mall looking for the perfect impulse item to gift a loved one at Christmas. These days, to do that would be a luxury or an inefficient use of my time – take your pick. I do most of my buying online. The internet has changed all of our lives in numerous ways. I don’t buy cookbooks anymore – preferring to google in my “ingredients” and choose from what pops up, give it a try and if it’s really good, I’ll keep the print-out and if not, I recycle it with the paper.

I do find the sheer volume of Christmas catalogs arriving in my mail to be disturbing at best. The cost of printing and mailing these in high volumes must be miniscule, though as important, I suspect, to the USPS revenue stream as the day after Thanksgiving has traditionally been for the Christmas shopping season that arrives “earlier” each year – now much of it before Halloween. I’m not alone, I owe my image above and below to the “Hardly Housewives” blog (http://www.hardlyhousewives.com/2012/12/catalog-overload.html) from Dec 2012. The blog informed me that there is a service to reduce the glut that I can sign up for at http://www.catalogchoice.org. One of that service’s users commented on that blog, that since 2007 – “the website tells me that I’ve saved 7 trees, over 2600 lbs. of greenhouse gases, 957 lbs. of solid waste, and 6500 gallons of water by stopping some of the catalogs. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s better than nothing.”

Stack of Catalogs

Like the blog author though, I do enjoy browsing through some and some are absolutely crucial to making “Christmas Special” for a couple of boys growing up in this household. Still, I sincerely resent getting the same company’s catalog – weekly – for 3-10 weeks before Christmas. One of her readers also recommends a phone app – PaperKarma – and says “Once you register for free, you simply take a picture of the sender’s address label and upload it. After some ‘digital magic’ the system will confirm the sender with you and then contact the company to remove you from their mailing list.” My husband and I once got on a “stop junkmail” binge and would use “paid, return” envelopes to return everything we received to the sender with a note to remove us from their list. It was VERY effective. All of these options are also time consuming; and for many of us, time is an extremely valuable commodity that is more precious than money or aggravation.

Buried in Strings of Lights

We have an old string of Christmas lights that we continue to light up on our backporch throughout the year because they give a wonderfully bright but subdued light to the whole area. We are going to have to retire them because it has become impossible to find the old style bulbs we used to replace as they burned out. Disposable and consumable are what the USAs economy is built upon. Thankfully, some are now providing recycling services for old strings of Christmas lights. http://www.HolidayLEDs.com offers a recycling program with the incentive of “a coupon good for 25% off LED Christmas lights”, which doesn’t help to end consumption but is better than sending them off to the landfill. Nearby in St Louis, MO (and the source of the image above) – there is the “Holiday Light Recycling Drive” at StLouisGreen.com (http://stlouisgreen.com/Holiday-Light-Recycling-Drive) which runs from Nov 16th through Jan 12th. Last year they diverted 107,000 pounds of holiday light from local landfills.

These are all issues that individual consumers face each holiday season but since we are also reaching out to the business community, I would like to end this blog with a few thoughts (and no solutions) about “business” clutter – in the Architectural and Design Community this has been partly composed of sales catalogs and physical samples. When I first came into this business, we sent out metal 3-ring, vinyl-clad binders with professionally printed hard glossy paper stock. They were the typical expectation of A&D Libraries. At some point along the way, as a supplier at the business-to-business level, we decided to keep our costs to the purchaser down by eliminating a lot of the “frills”. We moved to a highly recyclable brown cardboard binder with easily removable rings filled with plain white-paper catalog contents. Now, in the redesign of our website, we are wondering how useful it is to send out catalogs anymore. We have kept our website lean and professional, simply a “tool” of the trade that loads quickly.

Sales Binder w Mat Samp

Our material sample sets cost, a seat of the pants estimate of, approx. $50 to produce (image source above is http://www.corp-image.com/). That doesn’t sound like much but multiply it by the 10,000+ contacts in our business database, and that adds up not only to a significant financial investment but also a huge quantity of “solid waste”. It breaks my heart to know that our material samples might get thrown into a dumpster, on occasion; but I know it must happen. We utilize regional outlets such as Re-Use in St Charles MO or the Teacher’s Recycle Center in St Louis MO to find a second life for reject or obsolete material samples. It’s a bit more work but well worth the effort, to have a clear conscience about how we dispose of waste. In the early days of our marriage, we once took obsolete laminate samples and tiled some 1/2″ thk, 9-ply Baltic birch plywood lacquered slabs, making trivets for our family members as Christmas presents. We couldn’t afford to do more; but the amazing thing is that a quarter of a century later, most of our family members still have, use and treasure those simple gifts.

We used to send out complete sample sets with a catalog in a strong but nicely re-usable or recyclable box to every design professional’s firm that contacted us but we are re-thinking that because excess is waste and in a world with a growing population, it is better to send out specific 2″x4″ or 6″x6″ or even larger “presentation” samples in the actual desirable colors than “waste” samples on the risk they will be someday thought “obsolete” and tossed into a dumpster, thereby adding to the “clutter” of solid waste at the landfill. Each of us may not be able to make a significant dent in that overall “clutter” of solid waste but every effort actually does matter, to the wholeness of the outcome.

When cash flows are abundant it is so very easy to “waste” financial resources in “irrational exuberance” as Alan Greenspan once famously declared before the economic collapse of late 2008. 25 years ago, we learned to understand that marketing is a black hole that can never be accurately quantified – cost vs effectiveness. Small business loans and grants won’t fund such flimsy and nebulous expenditures, preferring hard assets. When our business was going great guns overwhelming before the collapse, we could easily have overextended ourselves. It was with a sense of sadness that I discovered last week, one of our contacts – Karlsberger Architecture of Columbus OH – had collapsed in 2011. They were an 83 yr old firm, doing $22.6 million in 2009 revenues. All it took to bring them down was the loss of one major contract. Sobering. We have to be mindful about how we utilize our personal assets, our business assets, our national assets and our global assets. If we have learned nothing else during the last few years, it should be at least that much.

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Blog author ~ Deborah Hart Yemm is co-founder of
Yemm & Hart, a green materials producer

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