One of the questions I often get asked is "Does electronic billing really save trees if the people print out bills to their local printer?" The answer is a resounding yes even if every bill that is delivered electronically is printed out. This is not realistic since lots of people don't bother printing but let's assume worse case they do. Let me explain...no...let me sum up. (Bonus points if you know who made that quote famous).
First a quick backgrounder on what actually happens prior to the bills appearing in your mailbox.
1. Bills get printed out using one of two types of printers - "cut sheet" or "roll fed". Cut sheet simply means that the pages are cut to size prior to printing. Roll fed means a big spool of paper is printed on and then cut after printing. This is a net neutral on savings since basically the same amount of paper and energy is used.
2. After printing, bills are fed through high speed machines called Feeder/Folders and Inserters which collate, fold, stuff, seal and stamp the bills. Billtrust use Bell & Howell equipment but there are several other vendors like Pitney Bowes in this business.
There are two bigs savings here. From a raw materials perspective, the savings are roughly 50% since no envelope is used in electronic billing (assuming a 1 to 2 page bill). From an energy perspective, it's a big gain since the bill doesn't have to go through the insertion process and if you've seen our electric bills...
3. Bills are then placed in trays, which are put in cardboard sleeves, strapped and barcoded with the destination 3-digit or 5-digit zipcode. These trays are then delivered to the USPS for mailing. Some mailers add an extra step and deliver bills to a Presort House which commingles mail from lots of mailers to achieve postage discounts.
Electronic billing delivers some marginal fuel savings here on the transport of the bills to the local USPS but let's just call this a push.
4. The post office does of one of two things with the trays. If the tray is barcoded locally, then they open up the tray and put all of the mail on a huge sorting machine that more granularly sorts it for delivery. If the tray is barcoded for a another location, the tray is either trucked or flown to another postal facility where the bills go through further sorting.
This is a huge savings in fuel obviously since electronic billing has effectively no delivery cost.
More big savings here since this fuel expense is skipped.
So to sum up...the savings may seem minor for each bill, but if you do the math, the savings are quite dramatic.
There are roughly 30,000,000,000 (that's billion) bills delivered each year in the US. Let's assume each bill is one page. If 10% of the bills are delivered electronically and assuming only half the people print them out, that saves roughly 500,000 pounds of paper per year. The fuel expense is tougher to calculate and since I think I've made my point, I won't bother. However, transporting half a million pounds of paper to your mailbox ain't cheap.
And that's not it! Electronic bills often result in electronic payments which have equal savings as compared to delivery and handling of paper checks.
Electronic billing is a big Green Project and we're proud to be part of it.