Sunday, January 20, 2013

Step Twenty-One: Write a Letter

I make about a half gallon of garbage a month, more if you count the things I recycle. If I wanted to I could probably make less trash and recycling, but to do that I'd have to cut enjoyable and stress-reducing things out of my life. Reducing waste is important to me, but being happy comes first. However, if I could find these happy/necessary-conveniences in bulk or without waste, I'd get them that way in a heartbeat. To that end, I usually write about a letter a week to various companies asking them to find a better method.

I choose to send physical letters containing examples of the waste a company's product makes because I feel that these have more impact, and are less likely to end up in a junk folder on a computer somewhere. Even if they do get misdirected, I send letters every time I have waste from a specific company, so I know my voice is likely to be heard at least once, if not multiple times. The garbage made from the product still counts in my personal tally, but I think it becomes a little more useful if it can make a point about waste before going to a landfill. It's also pretty standard practice in offices now to recycle paper, so I don't worry about the physical letter becoming trash.

I typically start the letter by explaining that despite my zero waste efforts, I love the company's product(s), and have made an exception to my zero waste policy in order to continue using this thing that enhances my life. I then say that despite its quality and excellence, I wish the product came in a zero waste way (and often I can even volunteer that I'd be willing to buy it in bulk if that meant no garbage), and I go on to describe the various waste-free and low-waste options available for packaging products (usually packaging is the waste problem), things like cardboard boxes, plant-based compostable plastic, paper tape, shredded paper or cornstarch-based packing peanuts for shipment padding, and even mushroom-based packing forms in place of Styrofoam. If the product itself is an issue, I express the desire that the product be more easily recyclable or repairable. Lastly, I tell the company I've included the resultant trash from their product, and ask them to imagine that trash multiplied thousands, or hundreds of thousands of times to represent all of the waste their product is responsible for. I finish the letter by thanking them for their time and consideration, telling them they are welcome to contact me at any time, and referring them to my blog if they have further questions about zero waste.

I put the letter and the garbage (clean trash only, no food-soiled or greasy things) in a standard envelope, use a regular stamp (unless it will make the envelope too heavy, then I add a 20 cent stamp for the extra weight), write 'hand cancel' on the front if the trash is too stiff to go easily through the post office machines, and send it off. There's usually some sort of mailing address on a company's webpage, so finding where to send the letter to is easy, and I often address the letter to "[Company's Name] Customer Service Team" if I can't find a specific person in the company to send it to.  Sure, there's a little work involved in the process, but it's really quite easy once you've done it a couple of times. I find it about as bothersome as mailing in a check to pay a bill (can you believe some businesses still don't take online payments?), but reap considerable satisfaction once the letter is in the mail.

The hard truth of the world is that not all companies care about the environment. Some do, and some only care for money. However, if enough customers demand it, a company will bend over backwards to please them, so I make it my business to ask companies, politely and consistently, to change for the better. I believe we'll eventually have to move as a country, culture, and world to more conservative, waste-free practices, but I hope we can work together to make it happen sooner rather than later. Take some time to write a letter or e-mail to a company whose products you still use, or would like to be able to use, and let's move forward together.

First time reading about a hundred steps to zero waste? Go here for the introduction and index.

P.S. In case you're wondering, the products I use regularly and the waste they create are as follows:

  • Fischer space pen cartridges. They come displayed in plastic with a cardboard backing, and have a plastic extender so the refill can fit a standard sized pen if the customer wishes. I send both of these back to the company and recycle the cardboard backing.
  • Moleskine shrink-wrapping. These notebooks make writing a joy, so I use them despite the shrink-wrapping, though I do send it back to the company.
  • Plastic clothing tags. Some of the thrift stores in my  area use those little plastic things to affix price tags to their clothing. Since this is a store issue, I simply write my letter, enclose the tags, and hand deliver it to the manager on my next trip.
  • Ghirardelli chocolate wrappers. I love Ghirardelli's chocolate squares, and still find myself buying them on occasion. The squares come individually wrapped though, so it's a habit I'm trying to break. In the mean time, I write my letters.
  • Res-Q Ointment shrink-wrap. This salve comes in a recyclable tin, but is sealed shut with a ring of shrink-wrap. 
  • Altoids shrink-wrap. My husband would be very unhappy without these mints, so I send the shrink-wrap back to the company, compost the paper wrapper inside the tin, and reuse or recycle the tin itself.
  • Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Peanut-butter Cups packaging. These delicious little candies are helping me break my Ghirardelli habit, but they come in a plastic tub (plastic #1, so I recycle it) which is sealed with a shrink-wrap band.  I send the band back, as it's not recyclable, and ask Trader Joe's to consider a wax-paper or cellophane bag for packaging, with a cardboard box if the candy needs more protection during shipping.
  • Shipment packaging. I order things from people on e-bay and various companies from time to time. Though I request they use plastic-free shipping products, my requests are not always honored. Amazon uses plastic air-pack bags, which are a better choice than Styrofoam packing peanuts, but still are not ideal. Almost everyone uses plastic tape on their boxes, but I usually let this slide.

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