For generations, paper envelopes have been the default means of sending written communications. Envelopes are lightweight and effective, maintaining the privacy of their contents until opened by the recipient.
In recent years, driven partly by concerns over sustainability and partly by economic factors, some businesses have resorted in part or wholly to other methods of sending written communications . For example, some mailings are now contained in plastic packaging while others have abandoned physical delivery altogether and opted for electronic communication – in particular email marketing and online advertising to replace direct mail or transactional mail such as statements and billing. However, there are downsides to these alternatives.
Plastic mailings have become increasingly common even though single use plastic is not recyclable and can have a major impact upon the environment. Perhaps, this is why paper-based mailings are showing signs of slowdown in decline. Some plastic is recyclable of course, although, this can still be a problem. Many recycling plants prefer solid items like bottles because loose plastic wrappings clog their machines, leaving plastic envelopes to be placed in landfill sites or worse.
Another alternative to paper envelopes has been email and other electronic communications. We can’t deny this has its rightful place and cutting out the physical delivery process entirely may seem to eliminate the problem of waste and resource depletion but unknowingly, ‘out of sight – out of mind’, the impact doesn’t stop here. There are hidden costs to digital transmissions. Talk of the “cloud” obscures the fact that this network infrastructure is supported by a vast array of machines.
The plastic and metal of computer hardware may not be sustainably produced or recyclable. The lifespan of hardware seems short as technology is constantly being updated and replaced, using more materials and the extrusion process itself is energy consuming whilst, transportation increases emissions. Furthermore, the amount of energy used by datacentres supporting the digital infrastructure is not negligible. Figures for 2017 indicate almost 45 million tonnes of waste electronics globally and the total e-waste for 2020 is estimated to exceed 50 million tonnes. We should not, therefore, fool ourselves that electronics will solve our sustainability problems.
Paper envelopes are still one of the more sustainable means of written communications. In the UK, paper for envelopes is sourced from certified producers with the chain of custody following through from forest to mill, to envelope manufacturer. This means, the raw material used to produce pulp, is now grown in carefully managed forests where felled trees are replaced in a sustainable and certified process. Paper envelopes are both recyclable and can be produced using recycled fibre.
Food for thought, don’t you think?