Through the magic of following the #LetterMo, #SnailMail, and #MailArt hashtags on Instagram and Twitter, and through looking at a whole bunch of mail art things on Pinterest, I have been experimenting with junk mail envelopes and more broadly make-your-own envelopes
The first thing I learned is that the US postal service’s guidelines are a wee bit complicated and slightly arcane, but once you have done your algebra and geometry and figured out your allowed envelope sizes vs. the paper you have, you can have a lot of fun.
I had a couple fliers from AAA and magazine from our local grocery chain when I found someone on Instagram who was using calendar pages – https://www.instagram.com/p/BvKEsgzFweR/. That sounds good, I thought, but where do I find a calendar for cheap?
The next day, I walked into the local Dollar General (https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/companies/dollar-general-throws-a-lifeline-to-hard-pressed-communities-but-at-what-cost/ar-BBO0d5j ; https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/aug/13/dollar-general-walmart-buhler-haven-kansas ) for a half-gallon of milk (Dollar General is literally on the way home even if I take the bus stop and is the only thing except a gas station and a strip club that is.) and there was a 2 foot tall stack of calendars for 70% off their $1 cover price.
Yeah, I have some calendars now.
I’ve read people talking about this sort of thing as being good for the environment, and I’m not 100% sure about that (more below), but it’s fun, and it’s a different way to make sure that the mail I send people has a pretty wrapper as well as a pretty inside and nice words – which is fun. I get more excited when the envelopes in the box are fancy, or have wax seals, or are drawn on, or all three. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one, too. (Do you? Is it awesome to see some art in your mailbox? I know my mom really likes it)
Okay, environmental impact.
As far as I know, the university I work at recycles all paper that’s put in the recycling bins, so not putting these fliers in the blue bin there doesn’t really keep them out of a landfill. It might put them IN a landfill at the end, to be honest – I don’t know what people do with their envelopes. And as for what happens once that paper hits the county recycling plant – it’s hard to find concrete information on what percentage of paper that goes in a recycled bit ends up being paper again.
So that’s what I know about my boss’s fliers: almost nothing, but I probably didn’t keep it out of a landfill but making an envelope out of it.
Junk mail at home: In the winter, everything paper without plastic attached goes directly into heat via our wood stove. The ashes are composted – not in the garden usually, but in the meadow and other non-food areas. Every piece of paper I turn into an envelope is actually taking heat and a decent soil amendment away from our house/yard.
And the calendars? I don’t know what Dollar General does with things they don’t sell! I know that the pile went pretty quickly, and that other people were buying them while I was there – I also know I went back and bought a couple more when they were 90% off, too.
The flip side: Not using store-bought envelopes?
Well, On the other hand, I’m sending more mail this way that I might have otherwise, and THAT costs a lot more fossil fuels than just sending an e-mail.
The end result of this is – I don’t feel comfortable in any way saying that junk mail envelopes are in any way better for the environment than any other craft. If I’m being a responsible citizen and recycling all of my paper (or burning it for heat, which would be a reuse), then paper beads, junk mail envelopes, and other crafts from the back of magazines… decoupage! I’m decoupaging my received-mail box! Collages! – any of that is not inherently environmentally friendly. There are things I can do that are a lot more so – like using reusable plastic containers instead of ziplock bags, bringing my own shopping bags, buying less…
… but the envelopes are really fun!
(and I bet they’re neat to get in your mailbox, too…)