The Zero Waste Solution

April 3, 2012

When I heard about the organization, Catalog Choice, the nation’s leading mail preference service dedicated to eliminating unwanted mail, I was thrilled! More trees to hug, I thought, as I scampered to answer the PR lady’s email.

They just announced the cumulative environmental benefits of its municipal partnership program, which launched one year ago. Hold onto your hats, folks. This one’s good!

Since March 2011, more than 530,000 opt-out requests have been processed through Catalog Choice for Communities, which translates to:

 

·         20,000 trees saved (the amount of trees in New York’s Central Park)

 

·         19,000,000 gallons of water saved (29 Olympic sized swimming pools)

 

·         3,000,000 pounds of solid waste saved (enough to fill 125 garbage trucks)

 

*   8,000,000 pounds of greenhouse gas saved (the amount of emissions produced annually by 364 HUMMERS)

Created by the Berkeley-based non-profit, Catalog Choice for Communities is a zero-waste program for unwanted mail and phone books. Catalog Choice provides each municipal partner with a tailored website hosted on catalogchoice.org, where residents can opt-out of unwanted mail. Summary reports by zip code are shared by Catalog Choice on citizen participation, solid waste diversion, CO2 reductions and other environmental benefits. Communities that work with Catalog Choice stop five times more unsolicited mail at the source than others in the U.S.

“Not only does unwanted mail cause clutter and waste resources, it is costly to collect and dispose of, which we ultimately pay for through local taxes and fees,” said Chuck Teller, executive director, Catalog Choice. “As communities pursue zero waste and landfill diversion, this innovative program is essential. It is a win-win for everyone, including companies that don’t want to send mail to people who don’t want it.”

Americans receive more than 100 billion pieces of unsolicited mail each year, and 62 percent of it is not recycled.

Ouch!

“Communities around the country recognize the magnitude of problems created by unwanted mail and want to make a change. Since we launched the program, 19 communities representing over 100 cities have signed on,” added Teller. “We anticipate doubling that partnership number in 2012 and look forward to rapidly expanding this movement and our impact.”

Current partners are: San Jose, Pasadena, Redlands, Santa Monica, the Costa Mesa Sanitary District, Los Gatos and Berkeley, CA; Boulder County, CO; Cambridge and Brookline, MA; Seattle and King County, WA; Santa Fe, NM; Chicago, Il; Margate City, NJ; Tompkins County (Ithaca) and Village of Stewart Manor, NY; Marion County (Salem), OR; and Southern Maine.

In addition to its community partnerships, Catalog Choice offers consumers a number of options to opt-out of unsolicited mail including their premium MailStop™ solutions. MailStop Mobile is the first smartphone app which allows users to take pictures of unwanted mail and get delisted for free. MailStop Envelopes is the offline complement and allows users to mail in labels. Catalog Choice processes the requests and monitors compliance.

About Catalog Choice

Founded in 2007 to provide consumers greater control over the marketing materials that enter their mailboxes, Catalog Choice is the world’s largest preference and privacy portal. Since its launch, Catalog Choice has connected more than 1.5 million consumers with 4,200 direct marketing companies to process over 20 million suppression requests through free membership services, Catalog Choice for Communities partnerships and MailStop™ solutions—including MailStop Mobile, MailStop Envelopes and MailStop Shield. By reducing unwanted mail and phone books, Catalog Choice’s free and low-cost services reduce deforestation, greenhouse gases, solid waste and water consumption. Catalog Choice, a non-profit organization based in Berkeley, Calif., is supported by grants from the Overbrook Foundation, Kendeda Fund, Merck Family Fund and Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, as well as contributions from members.

At a recent Tedx event in Salzburg, I met the most remarkable entrepreneur who had made millions in the software industry. What made him so unusual was not the size of his bank account, but the size of his heart. At some point in his career, he recognized that having ‘all this stuff’ wasn’t nearly as satisfying as reaching for it. Over dinner he later touted the virtues of getting rid of most of his material possessions.

“The chase was more fun than actually having all the toys,” the bright-eyed businessman told me over fantastic pumpkin shrimp soup. I applauded his virtue for selling his beloved Porsche, keeping his small flat despite his burgeoning family and reducing his air travel to nil. “With my simpler lifestlye, I now have more time than ever to spend with my family,” he claimed.

For us mere mortals without a seven-figure income, the notion of downsizing is still a distinct possibility. According to Wireless Intelligence, there are over five billion worldwide cell phone connections today. Since 1994, over ten billion cell phones have been sold. It is clear that we have reached a saturation point. Do we really need four television sets, five laptops and 1.6 cell phones per human being on the planet?

Downsizing to more manageable proportions is the latest trend. Unlike the 80s and 90s, the 21st century is not about collecting more things. In fact, we have recognized that it is now time to release them.

Recycling Web sites such as Freecycle.org have caught on to this notion of less is more. It is encouraging to know there are currently 7,603,875 worldwide members of the Freecycle Network. It’s about sharing what already exists, not manufacturing more of the same stuff.

A most power of slow principle, purging ourselves of our property can be psychologically stimulating. In a recent phone conversation, Jürgen Drommert, a delightful reporter for Lufthansa’s various publications, revealed to me how liberating it was for him to lift the burden of possession.

„I used to commute to work forty-five minutes one way from a tony suburb of Hamburg,” he admitted. For that he needed a reliable, neighborhood-appropriate vehicle. His move to a two-room flat in the center of the city helped him shuck the remnants of stuff, including his car. While he is a bibliophile, he even parts from his books once read by leaving them on the indoor stoop in his apartment building for his neighbors to enjoy.

Possessions hold energy. When we release them, we broaden our capacity to absorb new experiences. If you look at it from a karmic standpoint, you are also unleashing positive energy to the universe, shifting goods to the hands of those who will now appreciate them. In short, downsizing is a generous thing to do.

Removing the ballast is an integral part in our time perception because, as The Power of Slow claims, we can only fill our lives with newness when we get rid of the old. We must create the opening for new possibilities.

As we delved deeper into the discussion, Mr. Dommert and I agreed that routine kills our time perception. “Time is then no longer perceptible in our daily lives,” he stated.

For anyone who’s ever driven a familiar route, you often wonder how you got from point A to point B because you barely remember the drive. Less familiar drives give you a sense that time is standing still, while the drive back appears shorter because you’ve driven that way before.

As we age, our brains have encoded so many experiences that we get the sense that time flies even faster. Mindfulness drops off considerably as our brains tell us “We’ve seen all of this before.” So what can we do to rescue ourselves from deadening routine?

Practice being present in the here and now. A simple exercise to get present is to really look at your surroundings by describing the things you see. “I see a book with a yellow and black spine. The trim on the door is green. The sun is shining, the leaves are turning, this chair feels soft…” When you become present, you automatically feel a sense of gratitude for what you do have. It also helps you evaluate what you no longer need that you can pass along.

As Eckhart Tolle says, “The foundation for all doing is conscious being.” Build the foundation of now by being mindful and releasing that which no longer serves you. When you do, you will have more space and more time than you could possibly imagine.

 

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The Story of Stuff is an excellent project headed up by Annie Leonard that shows how we exploit the earth based on a manufacturing model of unsustainable consumerism. I first learned of it through one of my clients who is looking to green up her products even more.

Her original video, which you can view here,  quickly went viral. It’s now even got subtitles in eleven other languages. In other films, she offers thoughts about what’s actually in cosmetics, plastic bottles and more. Plus, she has an entire school curriculum to teach kids how to be less consume-oriented. You can visit www.storyofstuff.org for more details.

Here’s an intro to Annie’s work and future plans as well. She is about living the power of slow on a very granular level. Join me as we share with the world that it is easier to live without all this stuff!

Stewardship, not destruction

February 12, 2009

A few weeks ago I sat down for a phone chat with Montreal-based Karen Coshof, a smart, forward-thinking film producer who made a 2006 documentary called The Great Warming. It is not only a direct look at what we are doing to the planet, but what we can do to avert more damage. I found out about the movie through a Balance magazine article with Alanis Morissette, who happens to co-narrate the film with Keanu Reeves.

The movie did not get as much as play as it could have because Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, came out simultaneously. It was unfortunate timing; nonethless the movie merits attention for its straight-forward approach. Besides, Karen went to amazing lengths to secure her fellow Canadian moderators. Both Alanis and Keanu agreed to do the voiceover for virtually nothing.

In the film, Karen advocates stewardship, not destruction; personal responsibility, not the blame game. She views the Earth as an intelligent organism that can do very well without us. In fact, the Earth will survive. We, the human race, may not.

In her view, overpopulation is the number one reason for our problems today. Not only do we need a paradigm shift about what to do with our empty yoghurt containers, but also about how we populate the planet. She admits she has gotten into some hot water with conservatives who disagree with her theory, calling her an offense against Nature.

To truly get to a Slow Planet, we need to reevaluate our thinking. The Great Warming is a great start.

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