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Nil Use Paper Vs Single Use Plastics

In the UK we use some 842,000 tonnes per year of paper for “junk mail”. That’s around 10 million trees cut down whilst manufacture generates circa 842,000 tonnes of unnecessary CO₂ emissions. The water used is circa 8.4 billion gallons. All this environmental carnage is ignored by the “environmental lobby”.

Anti Plastic legislation Vs Anti Paper legislation (junk mail)

Whilst the government chooses to ignore this tonnage of junk paper, in October it is introducing legislation to ban “single use” plastic plates, cutlery, bowls, balloon sticks and some polystyrene cups. It claims this ban will save on 2.7 billion plastic items. However, it ignores the fact that virtually all these plastic items are not “single use plastics” but are recyclable and are able to be washed and reused. Contrast this negative approach to “single use” plastics with the government’s acceptance of ”Nil use paper” (Junk mail).

Having recently returned from a month away from home, I was once again horrified by the volume of unsolicited “nil use paper” (junk mail) which had accumulated during our time away. So, as I did last year, I weighed it! Surprisingly, just as in 2022 we had received 2.6 kilos, identical to the previous year, the content of this 2.6 kilos was as follows.

Junk mail contents

The following is the list of magazines, brochures, newspapers, and flyers. The number in brackets is the duplications with travel brochures topping the list (Jan-Feb) with charity appeals and their giving envelopes close behind.


Travel Brochures (7) Magazines Local (3)
Charity Appeals (6) Clothes Sales (2)
Wine Promotions (3) Smart Meter Sales (2)
Boiler Sales/Repair (4) Diet Supplements (1)
Car/House Insurance (2) Yoga/Gym Classes (1)
Smart Meter Sales (2) Council Magazine (1)
Beauty Products (2) Political Promotion (1)
Window Blinds (2) Paving Cleaning (1)
Gutter Cleaning (2) Double Glazing (1)
Take Aways (2) Energy Saving (1)
Furniture Sale (1) Fibre Insulation (1)

Plus 12 Envelopes!!

  • In all 60 items (48+12 envelopes) in 1 month = 720 items per year.
  • If we assume we are an average household, of which there are 27 million in the UK, that = 19 billion items distributed annually in the UK.
  • As they weigh 2.6 kilos in 1 month that = 31 kilos per household per year.
  • Again with 27 million UK households this = 842,000 tonnes of junk mail (nil use paper) all of which has to be produced, posted, transported and delivered.
  • Amid all this junk paper there was just 15 GMS of plastic!

N.B. for anyone who thinks these figures may be exaggerated I have omitted the junk mail (Nil use paper) to 4 million UK business premises, 2,265 local authorities and councils. 16,600 charities plus 413 government agencies. Thus the actual Nil use paper deliveries are nearer 1 million tonnes per annum or circa 12 million trees.


Negative Environmental Impact Paper Vs Plastic

It is difficult not to be cynical when considering the government’s environmental approach to plastics. The ban on single use plastic items has no logic in science, indeed, the government has not even attempted to present any environmental justifications for the ban. It is just a populist measure to placate the multitude of anti-plastic pressure groups. Instead of improving the collection of waste plastic for recycling or reuse, the legislation simply reinforces the publics misconception that somehow plastics are “bad” therefore the ban must be “good”. Again, contrast the 2.5 billion plastic items banned with the 19 billion of Nil use paper items whose manufacture not only adds to deforestation and global warming on a world wide scale, but also add to water depletion. The manufacturing process also use thousands of tonnes of chemicals to produce with no benefits whatsoever to humanity.

The negative environmental impacts 842,000 tonne of junk mail can be summarised as follows:

  • 12 trees per tonne of junk paper @ 842,000 tonne = 10 million trees.
  • 1 kilo of junk paper manufacture produces 1 kilo of CO₂ emissions = 842,000t CO₂ . Adding to global warming wasted.
  • 10,000 gallons of water per tonne of junk paper = 8.4 billion gallons of water.
  • Thousands of tonnes of chemicals are used in production including toxic sodas and chlorine.

Obviously, paper has a key part to play in all our lives, including packaging, but how long can we continue to ignore up to 1 million tonnes of unnecessary extra waste paper. Creating more waste and using more of the Earth’s natural resources and littering our countryside.

If the BBC feels we really need programmes like “War on Plastic” and “Drowning in Plastic” to alert us to the problems of plastic waste, surely 1 million tonnes of junk mail suggests we need similar programmes i.e. War on Junk Mail, Drowning in Junk Mail to make the same point.

As ever I welcome your views on any of the items raised and why not join me on LinkedIn for more regular discussions on packaging and plastics.




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