Plum Wasteful

Every week, I go to the mailbox and empty one of these:

You know, the “grocery store” circular that everyone gets with glossy offers on everything from appliances to zero-down loans on furniture you can’t afford but must have. Buried inside you might find a scrap or two from, you know, the actual grocery store.

Who reads this stuff? I don’t. Every week I shuffle it almost sight-unseen straight into the loving care of Austin Resource Recovery, where, through the magic of recycling and occasionally-favorable economics, it’ll return to me someday as another grocery-store circular. Or election cycle postcard.

The labor I spend clearing this out of the mailbox – because you have to if you want to keep getting legitimate mail (a questionable concept, I admit) – is rather inconsequential, perhaps. But it annoys me just the same. A mosquito whining around the room you’re trying to fall asleep in. That sort of thing.

But if you stop to consider that EVERYONE GETS ONE OF THESE THINGS… well, then it gets interesting. Let’s work some numbers. First off, what does it weigh?


A featherweight 5.2 ounces. Again, mosquito in a darkened room.

Ah, but no… this is Enhanced Carrier Route mail. Whether that means the carrier is genetically modified, or somehow the route has been super-sized, I don’t know… I suspect the latter. But what it does mean is that EVERYONE GETS ONE. Everyone. This is saturation mail, baby. Take a demographic and drop one mail piece in every eligible mailbox. Saturation. Like a slurry of lukewarm fry-grease, coating everything. In the City of Austin, every address I’ve ever lived at has gotten some version of this thing. So, I’ll go out on a limb and say there’s no residential address that doesn’t get one. Perhaps they throw in a few thousand commercial addresses as well to enhance the oily saturation.

In 2010, the US Census Bureau said we had 354,241 households. But that’s been 5 years. Austin being what it is – a part of the so-called “Texas Miracle” – we’re probably looking at quite a few more “households”. The City of Austin, in an estimate for 2013, puts the metro area at around 690,000 households. With a metro population of 1.9 million people, 2.75 people per household sounds pretty reasonable. Especially if you count all the four-legged canine children in this town who can benefit from extra housebreaking newsprint.

Which gets me back to those circulars. Those ounces add up VERY. FAST.

To the tune of 3,588,000 ounces. Yes, multiple millions.

Every week.

You know what else weighs 3.6 million ounces (give or take a few pounds?) Half of one of these:

UP #4795 EMD SD70M
UP #4795 EMD SD70M


Yes, an EMD-SD70M diesel-electric locomotive. At a svelte 407,000 lbs, this boxy beauty can yank dozens and dozens of rail cars 500 miles on just one gallon of fuel. (Or so says the ad.)

In just a short year, the sum total weight of our little grocery circular equals twenty-six EMD-SD70M locomotives. Just here in the Austin metroplex. Each week, you could saw one of these in half, mangle it so it’s useless junk, and drop it in one of Austin’s zip codes. There’d be almost enough to give every zip code in the area its own half-locomotive.

But hey, if I were stupid wealthy, I might buy all 26 locos myself and several city blocks, take the cutting torch to them all, and pile them in the center of town. It could be considered art.

Or you could just call it what it is: a huge waste.

Fortunately, there might be a thing to do about it. The circular that floods Austin comes from Redplum, who says on its website, “If you want to be added to our mailings, in nearly all cases (99.9%) your address information is already on record.” They know who you are. They don’t even need to bother with an opt-in.

But they do offer an opt-out with the usual disclaimer it will take 5-6 weeks to become effective. You can access it here. I’ve already done that, but I’m still in my waiting period.

If that doesn’t work, I suppose it’s still useful for puppy training.

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