Receiving and paying bills online is a green activity that helps you take control of your money. If you have an Internet connection, you can do it.
In 2011, U.S. households received 127.5 billion pieces of mail and sent 16.1 billion of which 14.9 billion were bills received and 6.7 billion were checks sent.1 That’s a lot of unnecessary paper.
Environmental Impact of Mail – Bills and Checks
Decades ago, paper bills and checks were a necessary part of managing household services and payments. Now they are wasteful items tied to an outdated system.
Proponents of paper mail like mail machine manufacturers, envelope makers, and direct mail advertisers, point out trees are a renewable resource. This is true. However, some trees come from forests that have been clear-cut, a practice that devastates forest ecosystems and results in erosion, flooding, and landslides that harm people downstream.
The pulp and paper industry is the 5th largest consumer of energy in the world and uses more water to produce a ton of product than any other industry.2 Paper plants emit nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere contributing to acid rain and global warming. Paper mills pull clean water out of rivers and lakes and put waste water effluent containing harmful substances back in. For instance, nitrogen and phosphorus in wastewater deplete oxygen causing dead zones where plants and fish can’t live.
Paper bills and checks travel many miles, mostly in fossil fuel burning vehicles. Your paper bill begins its journey in a forest where a tree is cut down into a log. From there it goes to a paper pulp mill, paper finishing plant, printer, bill processing center, local post office, mail distribution center, local post office, to your mailbox. You write a check and mail it, and either keep, toss, or recycle the bill. From your local post office, the check goes to a mail distribution center, local post office, payment processing center, and possibly a bank. At the end, the check is probably scanned and destroyed before going to a landfill or recycler.
PayItGreen estimates that 5% of American households (5,719,200) switching to electronic bills, statements, and payments would collectively:3
- Save 452,819 trees
- Save the greenhouse gas equivalent of not driving 654,874,338 miles
- Avoid creating 359,900,343 gallons of wastewater
- Avoid filling 1,535 garbage trucks with waste
- Avoid using 11,792,646 gallons of gas to mail bills, statements, and payments
Are you ready to consider online bill paying?
How Does Online Bill Paying Work?
In general, with online bill pay, your bills and payments are received and sent electronically to and from a central online location like your bank or a bill payment company.
Many banks offer online bill pay for free. Bill payment companies charge a fee but allow users to pay from multiple sources, not just one bank. The lowest fee I found was $2.95 a month, less than the cost of 7 stamps.
Many, but not all, companies will provide electronic bills through your bank or bill payment company, and receive electronic payments from them. Some bill payment companies will receive all your bills, including paper bills which they scan and post for you. Cool.
Besides eliminating paper and the clutter associated with it, online bill paying enables you to set up recurring payments (rent or auto loans), create alerts to prevent missed payments, and maintain financial records.
An Online Bill Pay Convert
Although I’m not what you would call an early adopter of new technology, I did begin using my computer to keep track of our finances back in 1994. Later I signed up for online banking to keep an eye on our accounts between monthly statements.
Several years ago, when we were looking for ways to reduce our environmental impact, I began migrating to online bills. Back then I would receive an email from a service provider, like my electric company, informing me my bill was ready. I’d log onto their website, retrieve my electronic bill, write and mail a check. I’d keep the bill for 3 years then shred and recycle it.
I resisted online bill pay because I believed it would be a hassle and my bank wanted me to pay a fee for it. I did pay my property taxes online once, but only because otherwise my payment would have been late. It cost me an additional $2.50 for a transaction fee.
When my bank offered online bill pay for free, I signed up. As it turned out it was easy to set up and is simple to use. I don’t miss the paper and am happy to save a few trees.
- Convenience – you can’t beat having one location to receive bills and make payments versus going through paper bills and writing checks or having to visit each company’s website to retrieve bills and pay online.
- Control – it’s easy to see at-a-glance what’s going on, bills received, due, and paid. Email alerts ensure payments get made on time. I hate late fees.
- Time Saving – bill paying isn’t a big production, I pay bills during the week when I have a few minutes to spare.
Take Control of Your Money
Let’s look at the figures from above again. Americas received 14.9 billion bills in the mail but only sent 6.7 billion checks by mail. This seems to indicate we are paying bills online at least some of the time but hanging onto our paper bills.
Take control of your money, get the unnecessary paper off your desk forever, and save a few trees. Sign up for online bill pay today. Here are a few resources to help you get started.
- If you like your bank, check out their online bill pay program.
- Compare bill payment companies and bank online bill pay programs at TopTenReviews
- Compare bill pay apps for tablets and smartphones.
- Bags – Paper vs. Plastic: Environmental Impact
- Spring Decluttering – Game Plan
- Stop Junk Mail and Get Off Catalog Mailing Lists
- The Lorax – Book Review
- The Household Diary Study: Mail Use & Attitudes in FY 2011 – U.S. Postal Service, April 2011
- Environmental Impact of Paper – Wikipedia
- Good for the Environment. Good for You. – PayItGreen, July 2010
- Consumer Bill Payment Practices Linked to Internet Usage, Mobile Bill Payment Growing, Shows Fiserv Survey, Fiserv, Inc., January 23, 2013
- More Consumers Embracing Online Banking, Bill Pay, by Andrea McKenna, American Banker, June 2010
- NACHA – The Electronic Payments Association
- The State of Payments – U.S. Market 2012, by Carol Coye Benson, Glenbrook Payment Views, September 24, 2012
- What’s the Impact of Paying Bills Online?, by Jaymi Heimbuch, Treehugger, April 11, 2009