Pair Collects AOL Discs for Return
You know those AOL CDs you get in the mail? And at the store? And in magazines? Of course you do. If you're sick of seeing them everywhere, you're not alone. Two California men are campaigning to slow the Internet giant's distribution of the ubiquitous, and often unwanted, marketing devices.
John Lieberman and Jim McKenna, both IT professionals in El Cerrito, California, are trying to collect 1 million AOL CDs, and plan to drive the discs to AOL's campus in Virginia and drop the CDs on the company's doorstep. Their goal is to convince the Internet giant to stop sending unsolicited CDs, and to promote responsible recycling of the discs, which they say can be difficult. AOL, for its part, says it already encourages consumers to recycle the discs, and that customers can remove their names from its mailing lists.
Lieberman's and McKenna's campaign began in August 2001, when the two men rented a movie. They later noticed an that AOL CD was dropped into the bag with their videos. At Lieberman's house, they found another CD in his mailbox.
"It was basically the straw that broke the camel's back," Lieberman says. Both men had already noticed how many CDs they were receiving in the mail, and were used to seeing them fall out of magazines at work.
"We thought, how would AOL like it if people dumped all these unwanted CDs on their doorstep?" he says.
Lieberman says he tried to yank his name from AOL's mailing list, but was told that it is impossible to do so.
"I have a sizeable box of CDs that were sent to me despite multiple attempts to stop them," he says. "I've called and they say it's impossible to stop sending CDs to an address. They say they don't have the technology to block an address. And this is one of the largest technology companies in the world."
AOL refutes Lieberman's claims, saying the company honors every request it receives from consumers who do not wish to receive the CDs. People can call AOL's toll-free number (800-827-6364) to remove their names and addresses from AOL's mailing lists, says AOL spokesperson Nicholas Graham. He admits it is impossible to block all of the CDs that a consumer may come across, as they are available through retail partners and with some magazines. (As full disclosure,
While their campaign has been light-hearted (their Web site includes a section with pictures of pets in action with unwanted AOL CDs), they are serious about their cause.
"Sure, we're tongue-in-cheek about the way we're approaching this, but we're really hoping that when we show up with 34,000 pounds of unwanted CDs that they say 'We understand what you're saying and we'll stop sending CDs to people who don't want them,'" Lieberman says.
AOL says it will welcome the two men when they arrive in Virginia. "We're happy to give them directions, and we'll leave the lights on for them if we're not here when they arrive," Graham says. "We share a common goal, we're just using a different means to that end."
The company has even offered to help the two men complete their collection. It will donate the remaining CDs that they need to reach their goal of 1 million, Graham says.
"It just shows us that they are completely missing the point," Lieberman says of AOL's offer.
AOL's CDs and their packaging are designed to be recycled, Graham says, noting that they are marked with recycling symbols for community recycling centers. If community recycling centers are unavailable, consumers can return the CDs to AOL for recycling.
The CDs also are designed to be re-used by being sent to other consumers--a point AOL highlights as part of the company's recycling plan. But, to Lieberman and McKenna, re-using the CDs simply propagates the problem.
"Early on, we suggested to people that they write 'cut it out' or 'stop it' on the CDs. Then we suggested they write haikus. But people were worried that AOL would wipe off the ink and mail them out again, so we suggested they take an Exact-o knife and scratch the CDs," Lieberman says. If the collectors receive unmarked CDs, they cut a notch into the side of them so that they can't be reused.
Lieberman and McKenna can't guess when they will hit the million CD mark. After almost a year and a half, they have collected just over 100,000 CDs. They have realized, however, that 1 million CDs actually is a huge volume.
"We're definitely getting a new appreciation for just what a million is," says Lieberman, who stores all of the CDs in his garage. "If you stacked [1 million CDs] neatly, it would be a block about ten feet by twenty feet, and it would take a couple of trucks, about ten pickup trucks to get the CDs there."
They remain committed to their goal, but say they are not obsessed with their mission. "We both have lives and families. We're not devoting every waking moment to this. We spend about an hour every evening on it," Lieberman says.
AOL does not plan to change its CD policy, and continues to send discs as marketing tools. The company does not disclose how many CDs it distributes, but Graham says the discs are valuable to both the company and consumers who want a quick and easy Internet connection. And the company continues to publicly support the NoMoreAOLCDs.com campaign.
"AOL applauds the efforts of anyone sharing the goal of increasing corporate responsibility in the area of recycling," an official company statement reads. "AOL welcomes--and indeed encourages--any efforts to help return and recycle CDs throughout the industry, whether they are inspired by individuals or organizations in the online or offline world."