Okay, okay, we’re interested in exploring the world out there, but does that mean we have to receive 17 America Online trial discs in a week, each in its own unique shrink-wrapped plastic-and-cardboard package?

The discs themselves aren’t so bad—perhaps some might get reused, as the good work of diskette recycler GreenDisk demonstrates. But all that non-recyclable packaging! AOL, the most determined mailer, is of course in competition with fellow mailers CompuServe, Prodigy and the Microsoft Network (MSN), and that means a great deal of needless duplication and direct-mail overkill.

Cindy Harvey, an administrative assistant at AOL’s Vienna, Virginia headquarters, admits that the service “bundles discs in several different ways.” In addition to the onslaught of mailings, the discs are packaged inside such magazines as MacWorld and PC Week. AOL also includes its discs with new modem sales. A lot of this seems unnecessary, since the software is routinely preloaded onto new computer hard drives.

Judy Tashbook, AOL’s public relations manager, says environmentalists should see the lighter side of her company’s mailings. “The discs are there to make AOL accessible to everyone,” she says, “but once you’ve loaded the program from them, they make excellent coasters. And they’re recyclable—please, go ahead and write over them.” Invoking the magic word—recycling—is fine as far as it goes, but AOL would be doing the Earth a favor if it simply cooled its direct mail fever.