What to do about all the cardboard on your doorstep

Through the miracle of modern technology and telecommunications we are fast approaching the point where slow living is possible for most of us.

With nothing more than a home office, a phone line, and an internet connection, you don’t have to leave the house to get your work done.

Gone is the interminable, life-sucking commute.  Gone, too, are the office politics, being shackled to someone else’s schedule, and about half your pay check going to gas, child care, eating out, and clothes you would gladly never wear again if given half a chance.

But as much as you might enjoy chatting up your neighbor as you walk the dog during your 10 am coffee break, all this instant communication from the comfort of your den has led to an unfortunate byproduct – the need for instant gratification.

And since you are now stuck at home enjoying your slow lifestyle, an entire industry has risen to meet your immediate need for books, groceries, and every other product under the sun to be delivered to your doorstep. 

The evil geniuses at Amazon spent years not making a dime as they reinvested all their earnings into creating an empire that today promises same day delivery throughout most of the country.

As you troll the internet and suddenly realize that cute bathing suit would be perfect for your trip to Aruba next week, there’s no need to work up a sweat so you can slim down and fit into it.  The only effort required is a couple of taps of your finger and, presto, the doorbell rings and there it is.

We now have fleets of eager beavers roaming our neighborhoods in delivery trucks who bound up our steps and beam with delight that they are able to satisfy our late afternoon craving for a caramel macchiato.

Life is truly good.

Except for a rather untidy byproduct of this byproduct.  Trash.

Have you ever noticed that the delightful thing delivered to your door, in its lovely cardboard and plastic packaging and requiring a degree in physics to unravel, is itself wrapped in a cardboard box?

And have you ever pondered that you receive not one, not two, but sometimes up to six of these deliveries in a single day?  Each in its own cardboard box?

Have you questioned the logic behind the pile of recycling at the end of the week that dwarfs your trash?

If you have children that pile might look more comfortable in front of a small apartment building.

Lest you wonder, I am not a holier-than-thou figure in this scenario.  Just last week I had a book delivered that I thought might be interesting after reading a single sentence about it in an article.  No thought went into this purchase.  Just a mindless click.

There were another three deliveries of various and sundry things long since forgotten.  And pizza.

It’s just too easy.

An article in the New York Times reports that in 2014 over 35 million tons of cardboard was produced in the US, with e-commerce the fastest growing segment among users.  Add to this the emissions from delivery services and the environmental consequences begin to come into focus.

“The new arms race for internet retailers is speed,” says Matt Richter, “making the old Federal Express commercial, ‘When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight,’ seem as quaint as delivery by horse and buggy.”

Now I’m not here to throw water on your online shopping habit.  E-commerce serves many useful purposes, and making our lives easier is one of the more important ones.

That said, you are likely here because the notion of slowing down has some resonance with you.  And all this instant gratification isn’t exactly in your slow lane, is it?

The basic question is, do we absolutely, positively need everything the delivery service is placing on our doorstep?

What if, rather than a mindless click in the middle of the night, we waited until tomorrow to make that purchase?  When the light of day might shine some sense on us.

It’s sort of like waiting 24-hours to speak when you are angry with your spouse or partner.  It’s for the greater good.

We make these purchases because we can.  They satisfy a want, not a need.

Robert Reed is a spokesman for San Francisco’s main recycling center.  It collects 100 tons of cardboard every day.  His solution is rather simple.  “Slow down consumption,” he says.

“Slow down.”


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