SAVING THE PLANET ONE CATALOG AT A TIME

Last Sunday I did something good for the planet, something I’d been planning to do when recovering from my knee replacement. Pain pill effects got in the way, so sooner became later, but determination and the two-foot tall pile of catalogs we kept having to walk around and move from place to place on the couch finally sealed the deal. 
In the last two months my husband and I have received 105 unrequested, unwelcome catalogs in the mail. I had noticed the pile burgeoning during those two months, but until I actually counted them, I had no idea there were so many. I knew they arrived in our post office box every day, giant wads of them that we then were obliged to carry to our car and home and then our garbage can and that alone irritated me. Now that I know how many avalanched into our mailbox, no wonder I felt aggravation mounting. 
The past holiday season, when the baskets I lugged were full, not with gifts, but with catalogs, I decided I needed to give Catalog Choice another chance to ease the barrage of unsolicited marketing in our mail. Have you heard of Catalog Choice?
Back in 2007, wondering what to do with my proliferating pile of waste junk mail, I came across the website www.catalogchoice.organd voilà, there was my answer. I typed in the proper box the name of the company sending me the catalog, any numbers and codes associated with my name, hit the “submit” box, and my problems would be solved, or so I hoped.  The amount of catalogs force-fed into my mailbox dwindled.
Some companies, however, did not comply with my wishes to terminate the one-sided relationship.  Their spokespeople told Catalog Choice that they made more money by sending out catalogs willy-nilly than by any other form of advertising, so they refused to stop. Those catalogs I kept receiving.  Even though I refused to buy even one product ever again from those companies, mailing lists containing our address were sold to other catalogs, and again we’d arrive at the post office to find a box crammed with mailings we hadn’t asked for.
While that was inconvenient, what really bothered me was the thought of so much waste of resources, all that timber being cut, all that hauling on our already overtaxed highways, and all the flying using so much gasoline, a non-renewable and shrinking resource. The accumulation of printing by-products so toxic to our environment upset me.  I thought of the metals in the ink used and wondered how that broke down in the landfills, and here on the coast where it rains most of the time, the watersheds.  (In my dad’s time when outhouses were common, at least the catalog pages could be used for another purpose, but we don’t have an outhouse, and I wouldn’t want to use the toxic ink and tough, slick paper for such a delicate task anyway.)
According to Wikipedia, three main environmental issues with ink are volatile organic compounds (VOC’s), heavy metals and non-renewable oils.  I don’t know that the ancient Tibetan techniques of making ink from soot, earth, puffballs, dung, fruit and a yellow fungus were any better. 
Working as a printer can be hazardous to one’s health, a fact I wasn’t happy reading since my son spent several years in that occupation.  VOC’s are emitted as the ink dries; the metallic pigments can result in environmental and worker health hazards; and the main oils in non-vegetable based inks are petroleum-based, non-renewable resources.
I felt gratified to read that in recent years more companies in the UK and USA are reverting to vegetable-based inks again which have lower VOC’s, use renewable resources, and utilize non-metallic inks which come off when the paper is recycled. Also, the process doesn’t use water in the print process where it had been before, thereby rendering it another toxic by-product.
I’m thrilled to see that our post office now has a row of recycling bins lined up to take the catalog offal away where I assume it’s being re-used in a beneficial way.  But still, what a waste of resources and time to produce something undesirable and rejected.
Worries about sustainability aside, I also thought about all the human labor in writing, photographing, printing, and assembling a catalog.  The postage.  What must be a huge cost for a company, all totaled, so a catalog could be sent to someone who didn’t even want one. 
Because by 2007, and even more so now six years later, most of our shopping in our little rural town is done online.  We google the product we want and go from there.  Yes, we use electricity and a computer /keyboard made from toxic materials, but we’re not tossing them out every day.
That’s why last Sunday I sat down for a couple of hours and typed 105 names of companies into my Catalog Choice account. Two companies have already received my message and one has responded with an assurance I will not see another catalog from that source. The planet and I are awaiting some relief.