Did you know: the majority of Americans do their banking by snail mail? Yes, the most common US payment method is the handwritten check, stuffed in an envelope and stamped with 39 cents . . . or is it 41 these days?

This is silly. Not only is the paper check inefficient, it's also a poor deal for the environment. Consider the trees milled, water wasted, energy expended and ink produced to create checks, checkbooks, paper statements, invoices and payment confirmation letters. It adds up to a lot of squandered resources.

The frequency with which we receive paper bills is illusory. Daily influxes of bright-white billing envelopes can lead us to believe paper bills suddenly appear—inconsequently—in our mailboxes, but every paper bill must be produced, transported by plane, train or United States Postal Service delivery truck—chocking up serious damage in fuel emissions. A recent study vetted by the Environmental Protection Agency claims the paper billing routine requires more than 674 million gallons of fuel a year. That's an eventual 3.6 million TONS of greenhouse gas!

Electronic bill payment is more than just a planetary mitzvah. It's also ingenious security against identity theft. Experts have long warned against mailing sensitive financial documents. Most banks concur that online transactions are safer than offline billing methods. According to a Javelin Strategy and Research study, almost 85 percent of identity theft cases are due to paper-related issues such as lost checkbooks and stolen bills, statements and check payments. With electronic transactions, however, sticky-fingered banditos won't even have the chance to view your stats, let alone engineer a heist.

So slay the raging paper beast, and take control of the clutter pilling up on your desk. Make the digital switch. To learn more about all the issues surrounding electronic bill payment, as well as to calculate your financial footprint, visit PayitGreen.org.


Olivia Zaleski is a green living expert.

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