Friday, May 1, 1998

LebEnv # 53


by Fareed Abou-Haidar

For decades, the U.S. has been plagued by the problem of "junk mail." This is mail that is sent to houses in mass quantities and seeks to advertise or sell things. It has gotten worse in recent years. American homes are subject to an avalanche of paper spewing out of the mailbox on a daily basis. Millions of trees die so that junk mail can make its brief trip from the mailbox to the trash can. Residents spend untold hours every year just processing the mail, even if they don't read most of it. Nevertheless, it keeps on coming because a response rate of a couple of percentage points is considered successful. Sometimes, I dream of putting a halt to it all by blowing up the mailbox with a stick of dynamite.

In Lebanon, mail service was spotty or nonexistent during the war. The lack of an organized addressing system, especially in rural areas and in areas built up during the war, has kept the mail system inefficient. (It's not very effective to have an address like "Third Floor East, Cedar Building, Subbair Street, off Tuffah Boulevard, Facing the Mosque." That's why most people in Lebanon deal with post-office boxes.

Now that the country is rebuilding and adopting many western standards such as a modern phone system, traffic lights, striped road lanes, a new airport terminal with jetways, and McDonald's and Pizza Hut, it's likely that plans are underway to modernize postal service.

Just as Lebanon cracked down on those ugly billboards before they got out of hand, it should control junk mail before it even appears on the scene. Much of the junk mail is difficult to recycle even in the U.S. because of coated paper, plastic envelope windows, stickers, glue, etc. Lebanon, with its limited space and natural resources, certainly cannot afford to deal with an avalanche of junk mail. It's better not to produce it in the first place. ("Reduce" comes before "Reuse" and "Recycle.") Plus, the Lebanese have better things to do than to daily sort through their mail and throw out the junk.

Lebanese business has thrived by using newspapers, magazines, radio, and television (and now the Internet) for marketing its products and services. Let's keep it that way.

Fareed Abou-Haidar

Fareed's Home Page (with articles and photos on the environment in Lebanon) at



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