Holidays mean people sending cards as a proxy for emotion. Those cards are heading to the landfill and making them created emissions. You can kid yourself all you want that the paper is recyclable or they aren’t that much mass, but you know you’re lying to yourself.
Most of the waste happened before you got the cards, a lot of the material never makes it to recycling, many cards include plastic in coatings or elsewhere that make recycling them impossible, and recycling only decreases the impact of the problem, it doesn’t reduce or stop it.
Actually, increasing the supply can reduce costs and increase total waste. This point sounds subtle, but it’s as important as realizing that building roads doesn’t decrease traffic and congestion. It increases them, and now we’re stuck with roads, suburbs, and infrastructure that leads to driving and polluting lifestyles for centuries.
Are we doing the same by promoting recycling without first focusing on decreasing consumption?
Our world is more efficient than ever and produces more total waste than ever. That’s why I focus on reducing total waste, not waste per use.
You know who focuses on waste per use? McDonald’s, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Exxon, and every polluter you can think of. Now look at what garbage you see choking our oceans, air, and land.
Let’s decrease consumption
You can express emotion without cards, often more meaningfully. Usually when people ask my address in October or November, they mean to substitute material waste for sending a card.
I understand people feel that cards mean a lot to them. Cards aren’t emotion, though. People lived for hundreds of thousands of years without cards. We take a lot more Prozac, are addicted to opioids more, and are more obese, despite more medical knowledge, so it’s not obvious that substituting things you buy improves relationships. It’s more likely it doesn’t.
I try to politely decline people sending me pollution while clarifying that I appreciate the thought. Here’s an email I sent:
Regarding sending something, I don’t want to presume, but since avoiding packaged food resulted in taking over a year to produce a load of garbage for my entire home, I have learned to value personal connections and relationships more for avoiding material representations of them.
If you were going to send a card or gift, would you mind if we let the thought count?
I value the sentiment behind them beyond what I can express. If necessary, I can share my address, but receiving something material that required production and energy costs to recycle and dispose of would decrease its meaning for me. Last time, someone sent me brownies, which ended up sitting on my shelf for years. I wouldn’t eat them for several reasons and couldn’t bear to give something I wouldn’t eat to someone else. Eventually I composted them and had to throw out the packaging, which will be in a landfill for hundreds of years.
The next time you’re in New York, I’d love to host you for one of my famous no-packaging vegetable stews, which helps show how much avoiding packaging has improved my life.
I’ve sent a couple emails like it. People responded positively. I don’t think they’re just acting nice. My next step is to write the people who already have my address to request digital cards next year, though the internet uses a lot of power.
You may consider declining cards insensitive. I consider it the future. Our levels of waste will lead to a lower standard of living—too much trash clogging our water, land, and air to top the list.
More important, cards and gifts don’t replace spending time together and result in many superficial relationships. They interfere with us connecting as people.
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