EarthTalk® is a weekly environmental column made available to our readers from the editors of E/The Environmental Magazine
Dear EarthTalk: What’s the latest with the U.S. Postal Service trying to reduce its environmental footprint? Starting delivery of some mail on Sundays doesn’t seem like a step in the right direction. — Kerry Rawlings, Albany, NY
As recent TV ads have been telling us, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has recently started delivering some mail on Sunday in what most chalk up to an effort to stay one step ahead of United Parcel Service (UPS) and Federal Express (Fedex). But while Sunday delivery may be convenient for consumers, environmental leaders worry that adding an extra day causes an unnecessary waste of fuel and carbon emissions. Though this service has been implemented too recently for any concrete statistics on its increase of greenhouse gas emissions, the USPS has several other initiatives already in process that can, at the very least, perhaps help to offset the environmental impact of this new increase.
Recycling, one of the familiar poster-children of the green movement, has become a true priority at the USPS in recent years. In 2012, USPS saved over 250,000 tons of paper, cans and plastic waste. In the lobbies of local post offices are over 22,000 recycling bins for those looking to dispose of any paper products. These same offices also offer eco-friendly envelopes, boxes made from recycled materials, and stamps that make use of a biodegradable adhesive.
Another important environmental initiative of USPS is its Return for Good program which facilitates recycling of stuff besides paper. Under the program, USPS collects expired prescription drugs, small electronics, empty ink cartridges and even fluorescent lamps. This program recovered approximately 172,000 pounds of unused pharmaceuticals in 2012. Recyclers can save themselves a trip to the post office to turn in recycled items by scheduling a pickup from the trucks already driving nearby 6-7 days/week. USPS even offers cash back on some newer electronics devices.
There are also efforts to reduce the impact of the large fleet of postal delivery trucks. According to the article, “Greener Delivery?” in the Harvard Gazette, the USPS has begun the process of replacing 180,000 of its trucks with more eco-friendly alternatives. The recognizable boxy mail trucks seem to be a thing of the past, as a January proposal suggested several design alterations to enhance efficiency and reduce emissions from the current rate of 9 miles per gallon. In addition to changes to the traditional truck, there are already around 42,000 alternative-fuel vehicles in the USPS fleet, most of them using ethanol as a fuel source. There are also electric, natural gas and bio-diesel trucks.
Of course, another way USPS is trying to reduce its environmental impact is to cut out consumers trips—and the emissions entailed—to the post office. Consumers can now print out pre-paid labels to simply attach to packages. By scheduling a pickup from your home, the mailman who passes every day will pick up your package and begin the delivery process.
Two other important programs can help reduce consumers’ environmental footprint. If you are going out of town, go to USPS.com and put your mail on hold until you return, eliminating unnecessary deliveries to your house. And alerting USPS when you move will also stop extraneous deliveries to your old abode.
While USPS may never be able to be as green as the beast that is killing it, e-mail, at least it is making strides in the right direction, even if you do get packages on Sundays.
EarthTalk® is written and edited by Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss and is a registered trademark of E – The Environmental Magazine.