Trying to defeat a ubiquitous foe


Getting a free AOL sign-up CD with a video rental was the final straw.

"I had already gotten eight of them that week. And when we got to my friend John's house to watch the movie, there was another one in his mailbox," Jim McKenna said. "We decided something needed to be done." And so was born.

McKenna, 33, and John Lieberman, 31, a couple of San Francisco-area techies, registered the domain name and launched a grassroots campaign to "stop the needless pollution of the environment due to distribution of unwanted materials." Their mission: collect a million of the promotional CDs AOL regularly mails to consumers and deposit them at the doorsteps of AOL Time Warner headquarters.

They've collected nearly 10,000 unwanted CDs in five months. At this rate, it would take more than eight years to accomplish their goal.

The pair has nothing against AOL per se. But as one of the largest producers of direct mail CDs - the Internet provider has churned out as many as 300 million CDs in a year, according to an industry estimate - AOL is an obvious target.

"Our concern is that they are producing millions and millions of pounds of what is basically [junk] and not easily recyclable," McKenna said.

It is perhaps the most extreme response to the incessant "junk" CD mailings, mainly from software companies and Internet providers, landing in mailboxes and at offices every week. But the effort - which has attracted supporters around the globe - indicates a growing concern about the proliferation of one-time-use CDs.

From a marketing perspective, CDs are cheap to produce - about 5 cents each - easy to mail and they put computer software directly into customers' hands. AOL said it has added "tens of millions of subscribers" by doling out free sign-up CDs through the mail, at computer stores, at movie theaters and even in cereal boxes.

GreenDisk, a Redmond, Wash., computer software recycler, estimates as many as 30 million CDs are tossed in the garbage each month.

Only a small fraction gets recycled. The process is expensive and not readily accessible, especially to the average consumer.

CDs are made of polycarbonate, a high-quality plastic, with a metal coating. They aren't considered hazardous, like some computer monitors that contain lead and mercury, which is why there is no great concern about putting them in landfills.

But the material takes about 450 years to break down.

CDs can be recycled, and a handful of companies do just that. AOL recycles millions of obsolete CDs in-house and invites consumers to send in any they don't want for recycling.

AOL executives are aware of the effort, spokesman Nicholas Graham said, but don't expect it to slow down production.

"As long as our members tell us they want a fast, easy way to get on [the Internet], we're going to continue providing it to them," Graham said.

Here is how to pitch the uninvited

Where to send your unwanted CDs:

GreenDisk - accepts CDs for recycling. Mail them to GreenDisk, 2200 Burlington, Columbia, Mo., 65202. There is a 10-cent charge per pound to cover labor costs. Visit or call 800-305-3475.

MRC Polymers Inc. - accepts CDs for recycling. Mail them to MRC Polymers, 3307 South Lawndale Ave., Chicago, Ill., 60623. No charge. Visit or call 800-890-9000. - accepts CDs only from AOL, and AOL subsidiaries CompuServe and Netscape. The goal is to collect 1 million CDs, which will be delivered to AOL Time Warner as part of a campaign to stop the proliferation of "junk" CDs. Mail them to No More AOL CDs, 1935 El Dorado Ave., Berkeley, Calif., 94707.

AOL - You can return unwanted AOL CDs to the company, which recycles them internally. Mail to AOL Attn: mail room, 22000 AOL Way, Dulles, Va., 20166.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad