The direct marketing industry is leaving itself wide open to a major assault on its environmental record after the DMA has admitted that it is too busy helping companies comply with new data legislation to tackle direct mail’s contribution to the plastic waste mountain, conceding that the issue is not even on its agenda.
In 2004, the trade body signed a voluntary producer agreement with the Department of the Environment & Rural Affairs (Defra), committing the industry to a target of 70% of all waste direct mail going to recycling by 2013. It claimed to have “smashed” the target four years ahead of schedule in 2009, reaching an audited level of 76%.
In a further effort to cut waste, the Government announced plans in 2011 to set up a centralised opt-out service for unaddressed direct mail. But his scheme has yet to see the light of day, with critics claiming the DMA has sabotaged the deal. The industry body strongly refutes this, insisting it is still waiting for ministers to get on board.
However, with growing concerns over plastic waste, triggered by the BBC’s Blue Plant II exposé (pictured), the direct mail industry could face further scrutiny. The sector is a major user of plastic, from polywrapping and plastic postcards to laminated mailshots and coated papers, meaning it could easily become a target for public ire and Government action.
A number of the major print groups are understood to be working on alternatives and there are recyclable, bio, oxo-degradable, compostable and photodegradable plastics available for mailing envelopes and bags.
Shrink plastic film which breaks down is also on the market but is not truly biodegradable. For packaging, some firms offer shredded cardboard and paper, and material made from corn or potato starch, but most still use polystyrene.
Despite Royal Mail’s claims that GDPR could lead to a drop in direct mail volumes, most in the industry can only see boom-times ahead because mail will be more effective; a factor which is likely to increase pressure on the industry to act.
Other sectors, including retail, are putting measures in place to reduce plastic waste. For instance, McDonald’s has just announced that it will replace its plastic straws with paper ones across all of its restaurants in UK and Ireland from September. The global fast food chain currently uses a whopping 1.8 million straws every day in the UK alone.
When asked if there was an action plan, a DMA spokesman said: “We would welcome any discussion that helps to promote the wellbeing of the environment. But at this moment in time our key focus remains helping our membership ensure they are GDPR compliant, as it has been for some time and will continue to be with the upcoming ePrivacy regulations.”
Decision Marketing publishing editor Charlie McKelvey said: “Of course, GDPR has been at the forefront of marketers’ minds for years and compliance continues to be a major concern for everyone in the DM industry.
“However, these regulatory compliance efforts should not be to the exclusion of everything else. As they say, forewarned is forearmed and for the DMA to not even be talking about this is worrying.
“When Defra comes knocking again, they won’t be concerned about data regulation, they will want to know what the industry is doing to tackle plastic waste.”
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