Let’s talk about junk mail. It’s a waste- literally- of time, resources, and energy. There’s all the embedded environmental and financial cost of advertising, water used in paper processing, printing, pollution emitted in transporting, only for it to reach its destination and be trashed or recycled, many times without even being opened.  In this age, advertising via mail seems archaic; yet, companies are still targeting us via snail mail, urging us to buy and sign up for programs and products that we don’t need. Why is junk mail such an issue?

  • 5.6 million tons of catalogs and other direct mail advertisements end up in US landfills annually.

  • 44% of junk mail is thrown away unopened, but only half that much junk mail (22%) is recycled.

  • The average American household receives 848 pieces of junk mail per household, equal to 1.5 trees every year

  • Junk mail destroys 100 million trees a year—the equivalent of deforesting all of Rocky Mountain National Park every four months.

  • Largely due to deforestation, junk mail manufacturing creates as much greenhouse gas emissions annally as 3.7 million cars.

  • Americans pay 370 million dollars annually to dispose of junk mail that does not get recycled.

actionable steps

This week, save all the junk mail you receive this. At the end of the week, take a look at the pile and go through the steps below.

i. Go to three websites to opt out of direct mail, credit/insurance offers, and catalogs, respectively. (costs $2 to opt out for 10 years) // (free; the online form opts you out for 5 years, mail in form opts you out permanently) // (free).  These 3 steps will eliminate 90% of your junk mail, in my experience- it takes a little while to go into effect so be patient.

ii. Go through your accounts to make sure you’re signed up for paperless billing/statements for things like insurance, utilities, cell phone, etc.

iii. For anything else that ends up in your mailbox follow these two steps: first, if it’s first class mail or says “address service requested” simply write “REFUSED” on the front and “take me off your mailing list” on the back, and put it back in your mailbox.  If its not first class, open it up to find out the name/contact info of the company responsible.  Then, call or email them requesting to be take off their mailing list.  This is a fairly painless process and usually doesn’t take long at all.

iv. Some items are bulk or “saturation” mailings and do not even have your address or name on them- these are just put in every mailbox by the postal employee.  You can refuse or put a note/ask your mail person to not deliver these types to you, but from what I’ve been told, this has no impact on the actual company/advertiser.  In this case, it’s best to repurpose/recycle it yourself (who knows if it will actually get recycled at the post office plus they have to transport it back there) and send an email to the company asking them to reconsider this type of wasteful advertising.

v. If you prefer to take a more hands off approach and don’t mind paying a fee, there’s also a newer app called Paper Karma that is subscription based that gets rid of junk mail for you.

isn’t it easier to just recycle it?  

It may be easier, but it’s not better.  Not only is there a giant environmental impact, there’s also the annoyance/burden of it.  If you don’t want the mail, and didn’t ask for it, why should you be the one having to deal with disposing of it?  The companies sending it should be the ones that have to deal with it.  By refusing the mail, you are voting for a more sustainable future.