Millions of pieces of junk mail fill mailboxes nationwide every year, and most of it is never even read. Election season exacerbates the problem, as campaigns are not demographically focused, and materials are sent out indiscriminately. Add this to the leaflets handed out at rallies and other public locations, and the waste is enough to fill a landfill.
Junk mail has always been a nuisance, but at least advertisements for supermarket deals and restaurants have some widespread appeal; a recipient is almost guaranteed to throw out political advertising when it is not from the party they support. These mailers also have little point, as they usually provide little or no information about a candidate’s platform. Often they contain no more than a photograph, name, constituency and a slogan.
If these candidates hope to get their name and face out there, they could put up more banners instead. Those remain in place until elections are over, and residents cannot avoid passing them every day. It would also do less harm to the environment.
While exact figures for Taiwan are difficult to come by, US statistics show that the average person receives 18.6kg of junk mail per year, which on a national scale is the equivalent of 100 million trees. The mail — including its production, delivery and disposal — creates 51.5 million tonnes of greenhouse gases per year, statistics from ForestEthics.org show. Some estimates show that producing this mail generates about 106 billion liters of wastewater per year.
A report published on July 14 last year by the Sierra Club cites a WWF report showing that more that 40 percent of industrial wood goes into the production of paper. Paper production — especially for junk mail — is particularly harmful to the environment because it is such a short-lived product, unlike furniture or hardwood flooring, the report says.
The situation might be somewhat better in Taiwan, where government estimates place recycling of municipal solid waste at more than 50 percent, compared with 35 percent in the US, but even recycled paper must be processed in factories that consume resources and produce a significant carbon footprint.
Suanne Cheng (鄭舒云), chief executive officer of Taiwan’s three major paper companies — Cheng Loong, Yuen Foong Yu and Longchen Paper and Packaging — has placed great emphasis on using recycled paper for the companies’ products since she took over the conglomerate in 2010, CommonWealth Magazine reported on Sept. 23 last year.
Taiwan has made great strides since its garbage crisis in the mid-1990s, and policies such as the plastic straw ban which took effect last year show that the government is committed to the environment. Increased use of recycled paper is also a positive change, but if trees are cut down elsewhere to make this paper, the impact on the planet remains.
There are also environmental consequences in printing and distributing junk mail. The government should consider a ban on unsolicited advertisements sent through the mail or handed out in public. Companies and political candidates who want to advertise should instead explore digital distribution methods, such as opt-in e-mail and text-message campaigns, and purchased advertising space on social media, as well as public billboards and other physical spaces.
Unsolicited advertising is not only an unwanted nuisance, it is also environmentally harmful and should be banned.
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