So what happened to “reduce”?

I got a credit card offer today that was printed on “50% post-consumer” recycled paper. Forgive me for not being excited.

Remember when you were a kid, and they taught you about the three Rs? Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. That’s how you save the environment. But it seems that everyone has forgotten about the first two in their rush to embrace the third. I think we’re missing the point here.

Take paper for example: paper recycling might do more harm than good.

Think about that for a second. Most paper comes from farms. Tree farmers plant at least as many trees as they cut down. Honest. They’re farmers, and that’s what farmers do. So increased paper demand results in increased tree planting. And the last time I checked, planting more trees is a good thing. Good for the air, good for the farmers, good for the environment.

So if we focus on recycling, it might be doing some harm. But surely it’s doing more good, right?

Maybe. John Tierney wrote an article in the New York Times postulating that government mandated recycling hurts more than it helps. I’m inclined to believe him.

Maybe we should focus a bit more on “reduce” and “reuse”. Take my mailbox, for example. I’d love to be able to opt out of snail mail completely. I have a perfectly good email address, and advertisers seem to be able to put their ads there. We live in the 21st century. So why is my place of residence still a means of communication?

I’ve completely switched to paper-free billing. The only thing I get in the mail are credit card offers, fliers for stores I don’t shop at. Junk mail. At least if it’s going to my email box I can filter it. When it goes to my mailbox, it just ends up in the trash. I don’t care if all this junk mail is printed on eco-friendly 50% post-consumer recycled paper. It’s better not to print them in the first place. “Reduce” trumps “recycle” in this case.

So do something good for the environment. Throw away some paper. It’s pretty liberating.