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One person's junk mail is post office's recyclable treasure

recycle February 10, 1997
Web posted at: 7:00 a.m. EST

From Correspondent Natalie Pawelski

ATLANTA (CNN) -- If you think you've got a junk mail problem, consider the post office.

Each day, letter carriers get stuck with literally tons of mail nobody wants -- thousands of catalogs, circulars, offers and ads sent to people who've moved on to new addresses. From coupons to fliers, this type of mail doesn't get forwarded. For years, most of it ended up in the trash.

But that kind of "toss it away and forget about it" mentality is changing.

"Rather than throw that in the landfill, what we do now is recycle it," said John Marler, environmental coordinator for the U.S. Postal Service.

In fact, the Postal Service has rescued so much potential trash from the landfill, it's now become one of the United States' biggest recyclers, saving one million tons of would-be garbage each year.

"We recycle everything that can be recycled," said Dan DeMiglio, Pacific Region spokesman for the Postal Service.


Even delivery trucks

That includes office paper, toner, cartridges, cardboard and -- believe it or not -- delivery trucks. The trucks are already made from recycled aluminum and after a fender-bender the wreckage goes right back into the recycling bin.

"It's kind of an exchange, you know? We contribute to the new aluminum cans, and maybe the old aluminum cans contribute to the fender on our vehicle," Marler said.

Elsewhere, in the motor pool, there are re-treaded tires and re-refined oil.

"It's a way of increasing our efficiency, decreasing our waste and overall contributing to improving our financial performance," explained Melinda Edwards of the Postal Service.

Last year, recycling saved the post office $5 million in disposal costs. Selling used paper, cardboard and other recyclables brought in another $5 million.

Of course, when it comes to setting up recycling programs, the Postal Service enjoys a few advantages.


For starters, the service already has a huge infrastructure in place. Each day, more than 200,000 trucks are already making their rounds, so adding a stop at a recycling center doesn't cost much.

Waste not, want not

Another advantage? Volume.

That's the reason the country's biggest newsprint recycling mill has signed a five-year contract to buy post office waste.

"I knew there was a large quantity of paper involved and our mill is always looking for new sources of fiber," said Joe Baker of Southeast Paper.

On the other side of the recycling circle, the post office sells products made from recycled materials, making itself a major customer for earth-friendly products.

"We purchase annually over $100 million of items with recycled content," said Charles Bravo, environmental policy chief for the Postal Service.

The Postal Service doesn't have to be the only one taking advantage of all this earth-friendly splendor. Officials say other big organizations can learn from its experience and do well delivering products for the earth.


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