(This article is a part of the Blog Action Day that brings together 14,000+ bloggers from different walks of life in a global effort to increase awareness about environmental issues.)
In an earlier life, I would open every piece of mail I received in my mail box to look for coupons. And if I found a coupon that I liked I would be off shopping. I mean, what’s not to like about 20% discount at Bed, Bath & Beyond, right? Well, here’s what – I did not really need anything from Bed, Bath and Beyond! I was essentially being conned into spending for the purchase of an item that I didn't particularly care for. That is just one of the evil ways that junk mail can harm your wallet. And the evil it wreaks on the environment is so much worse!
How Unwanted Mail Costs you Money!
- They are a source of temptation to spend money.
- They add clutter and clutter can cost money.
- Your tax dollars are spent to get rid of the junk mail you throw away.
- You spend precious time to sort through them and time is money.
Marketing people have spent years and years learning the human psychology to figure out how they can con consumers into buying more stuff. As mentioned above, it may be a coupon or a discount or a check for some money if you start a service etc. Or it may be catalogs with pretty pictures that instill a yearning to go buy stuff. Overall, the unwanted mail instigates a desire to buy stuff that you otherwise don’t need or think of.
If you do not immediately sort out the necessary mail from junk mail and throw away the junk mail, you will soon find your house/apartment cluttered with paper. Some important mail can easily be lost in this clutter resulting in late payments (and some hefty fees) or lost opportunities.
According to the Stopjunk website, it costs 320 million of tax dollars for disposing off the unwanted mail! That’s money not spent to improve our schools, public transportation, roads and other really worthy causes. And that’s our money that is getting wasted!
According to the New American Dream website, Americans throw away 44% of bulk mail unopened, yet still spend 8 months per lifetime opening bulk mail. OK, those statistics could be quite hoakey and not all of our time may be spent in productive money-earning tasks, but do your really want to spend that time in sorting through junk mail or would you rather be spending it with your kids or watching TV or reading books etc?
How Unwanted Mail Hurts the Environment
- Unwanted mail = wasted paper = cutting trees unnecessarily.
- The Energy cost of producing and disposing junk mail is exorbitant.
- Not all junk mail can be recycled!
- Not everyone recycles their junk mail.
- Unwanted junk mail fill up landfills.
According to the New American Dream website, more than 100 million trees’ worth of bulk mail arrive in American mail boxes each year – that’s the equivalent of deforesting the entire Rocky Mountain National Park every four months. According to this newsletter article an average American family receives more than a tree’s worth of junk mail every year! Each of us who has not got rid of unwanted mail is directly contributing to deforestation.
Not only is unwanted mail causing a lot of trees to be cut, it is wasting a lot of resources as well. If Americans receive several million tons of unwanted mail, imagine the energy used up in printing these material. And the fuel consumed to transport these to your door step. And the chemicals spent and the green house gasses generated in the process! According to the fact sheet on the New American Dream website, the production and disposal of direct mail consumes more energy than 3 million cars! That is just not worth it!
Some smart dumbass marketing manager some place decided that glossy paper will entice more people into buying their product and convinced the powers that be to finance a marketing campaign that only uses glossy paper. As if that were not bad enough, they decided to use colorful ads and probably staples too. The result is that I end up with a fantastic looking catalog that I am not interested in, but cannot recycle!
Even if the junk mail was recyclable, not everyone makes the effort to recycle the junk mail. It is sad to see millions of tons of paper go directly from mailbox to trashcan to landfills after having consumed so many of environmental resources!
The unwanted mail that is not recycled or cannot be recycled ends up in landfills. According to the statistics on this website 40% of the solid mass that makes up our landfills is paper and paperboard waste. By the year 2010, it is predicted to make up about 48%. While not all of this may be due to unwanted mail, considering that about 40 pounds of junk mail is sent to every adult each year and approximately 44% goes to a landfill unopened, I would think junk mail makes up for a large percentage of the paper that gets into land fills.
What you can do about it.
It’s simple. If every household makes an effort to minimize the junk mail they receive, together we can stop this monster that wreaks havoc on our money and the environment.
- Opt Out of Prescreened Credit Card Offers
- Register for the Direct Marketing Association’s “Do not mail” list.
- Turn down local coupons and fliers.
- ADVO, Inc.: Call up (888) 241-6760 or use this online form.
- Val-Pak Coupons : Call up (888) 797-1896 or use this online form.
- Abacus, Inc. : By e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org with “remove” in the subject line and name and address in the mail.
- Cancel catalogs from individual stores.
- Opt for E-bills and electronic statements.
- Unsubscribe from unwanted magazines.
- Mention explicitly that you do not want information sold.
- And finally, if some unwanted mail sneaks into your mail box recycle it.
A joint venture of the three credit bureaus helps stop prescreened credit card and insurance solicitations from landing in your mail box. You can opt out by calling the toll free number 1-888-5-OPTOUT or online through the website www.optoutprescreen.com.
While there is no law at this time that requires companies to not mail you because you have registered with the “Do not mail” list, most companies recognize that if you have gone so far to add your name to the list you will likely just throw away any offers they send you. So in the interest of saving money and guarding their reputation, many companies who are part of the DMA stop sending you offers. There is a charge of $1 for this service though and the response is slow since the main database is not updated on a continuous ongoing basis. You can register online using this form.
According to postal regulations, all fliers must be accompanied by an address card or an address label. This may be in the form of a post card with a missing child’s photograph or a label on one of the fliers and will likely be addressed to the “current resident” or “occupant”. This card/label will have information that will help you identify the company that is mailing out the fliers. Look online or in yellow pages and call the company directly to have your address taken off the list. Here is the contact information for three of the major flier/coupon/catalog mailing companies –
When you receive catalogs in mail, look for a customer service number and call up right away before you forget and ask them to stop sending you any more catalogs.
Every time I receive my credit card bill or a bank statement, I find that the envelope is stuffed with a bunch of fliers and offers. This junk can be reduced by opting for e-bills and e-statements. But it may not work for everyone. If you are like us and paranoid that you might forget to send a payment without the regular paper mail reminderrs, then you may not want to go for this option.
Magazines are one of the biggest leaks in most people’s budgets. If you have a credit card that gets automatically charged every year, then you may not even realize that your subscription has been renewed. The magazines that you liked last year may not appeal to you now and may end up in a pile on your coffee table without ever being read. Please call the unread magazine companies and cancel your subscriptions. This way you can not only plug the money leak, you can save the environment too.
When you sign up for any new service or subscription, clearly write the following next to your address – “Please do not sell, trade or make publicly available”. It may or may not help, but hey, no harm trying!
Recycling is catching on in most big cities in the US. Here in Texas, there is a scheduled recycle pick up that is aligned with regular trash pick up, in most cities. Also, many apartment communities offer specially marked trash cans for recyclable items. Actually, at our previous apartment there was a recycle bin right next to the mail boxes so we could dump the unwanted mails as soon as we picked them up and have them recycled. I am not sure how widespread the effort to recycle is, but do your part. If in spite of all the steps above you continue to receive unwanted mails, try to dispose them off in a responsible manner.
More resources for learning about junk mail
If you have more questions and are looking for more information, check out these resources for more information.
- New American Dream website.
- Frugal Green News Letter.
- Smart Money Article.
- Ecocycle article.
- Privacy Rights Fact Sheet.
If each one of us does our part, we can make sure that our environmental footprint is kept small and our future generations can continue to enjoy this planet as much as we do. And saving some money in the process is a nice bonus :)
*Image Credit: Photograph by sparkyourart [via Flickr]
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