On Oct. 1, I stopped at the UPS store to mail my taxes – something I do to make sure they get filed on time. I was quite surprised at the number of people in line on this particular Saturday, and to learn that maybe three out of four seemed to be shipping the same item– an AT&T U-verse box that they were mailing back to the company. I couldn’t help wondering: was this a coincidence, or just an end-of-the-month ritual? Did they get an alternative service? But there were boxes stacked up everywhere so it seemed they were all being replaced on that day.

Now what struck me is what an opportunity this could offer for AT&T and UPS stores to partner up in a recycling program. If we thought about the fact that cable boxes contain valuable resources such as rare earth metals, we might not be so routinely piling them up like just so many more items to be shipped back by UPS. In fact we could use the UPS store as a pick-up location where containers could be provided to collect these boxes, thus making recycling these materials far easier while having far less of an environmental impact.

It always amazes me that we regularly engage in activities like shipping these boxes back to AT&T without giving a thought to how inefficient, uneconomical and eco-negative they are. Do you suppose if the people in line were actually a little irritated that they even had to bring them back, things might be done differently?

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not faulting either UPS or AT&T, both of which have been traveling down independent paths of sustainability and doing some great things in this area. But what I would like to see is a new spirit of creative collaboration between these and other environmentally aware enterprises. We really need for companies such as UPS and AT&T to think about consolidating their efforts in order to identify such opportunities for preserving the planet’s precious resources — while eliminating unnecessary carbon-consuming activity in the bargain. At the very least, it would reduce all the waste and inefficiency associated with superfluous shipping.