The United States Postal Service (USPS) delivered 11.52 billion pounds of paper in Financial Year 2019, taking into account First Class, Marketing Mail, and Periodicals. It uses a delivery fleet exceeding 200,000 vehicles, responsible for producing 1.7 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent greenhouse gases in 2018. These numbers are hugely significant. USPS can and should do better.
We must all work together to bring about a sustainable future for our planet. USPS can be a leader in this effort while at the same time improving profitability, reducing online crime, and settling national security issues. As France’s President Emmanuel Macron said to US Congress in 2018, “There is no Planet B.”
There are many private companies attempting to bring environmental improvement — one of them being Tesla and their solar panels program which is the future. However, until such technologies have matured to a low enough price point to reach mass adoption, we still rely on fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are critical for the smooth operation of industries, but we must minimize such consumption to reduce our carbon footprint.
At 17 mature trees per ton of paper, nearly 98 million trees were cut down for the 11.5 billion pounds of paper (assuming that is not recycled paper) delivered by USPS in 2019. This did not include packaging material for packages, parcels, and other USPS mail services. A whole lot of trees are cut down just for a subsection of mail delivered by the USPS.
Additionally, with USPS releasing 1.7 million metric tons of CO2 in 2018 and a mature tree absorbing 48 pounds of carbon dioxide in a year, we would need 78 million trees to absorb USPS’ CO2 produced annually.
Becoming a Catalyst for Change
Having said that, USPS does demonstrate a commitment to minimizing its paper use and promoting recycling where possible.
The USPS recycled 297,000 tonnes of material in 2019. It is working toward a more sustainable delivery fleet, with 40,000 vehicles now able to use alternative fuels such as electricity, compressed natural gas, liquid propane, and hybrid systems. The agency is also using technology to reduce fuel consumption by optimizing delivery routes, thereby saving five million miles between 2017-2019.
USPS should make further efforts to reduce paper usage and fuel consumption by adopting email technology. This is not to mean that there should be an email service only. USPS should retain the regular postal service to provide authentication services by sending a code to the physical address and especially to serve seniors who are used to snail mail.
People might worry that moving to an email service would be detrimental to jobs. However, technological progress has a long history of creating jobs with every new development — from the industrial revolution to the present day.
A 2018 report by the World Economic Forum predicts that although automation may end around 75 million jobs, 133 million more will emerge by 2022 due to technological advancements and societal trends. This will result in a net increase of 58 million jobs.
Diversifying into electronic mail will be profitable for the USPS and save the traditional mail delivery service and its associated jobs. Technological changes are an unstoppable force, and failure to adapt may mean the end of USPS, which would eventually result in the loss of all its jobs.
USPS should provide leadership and become a catalyst for change by creating an email service for the public. This will reduce the number of trees being cut down for paper. By providing an email service, which is increasingly preferred by the younger generation, USPS will help provide a valuable service, bring back USPS profitability, reduce online crime, and help the environment.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.