Center for American Progress

It’s Easy Being Green: Clearing a Cluttered Mailbox

It’s Easy Being Green: Clearing a Cluttered Mailbox

Reduce your junk mail load by signing a petition for a national Do Not Mail registry and joining opt-out lists for direct marketing companies.

Junk mail is a major inconvenience to U.S. households and the environment, but there are steps that can be taken to reduce its volume, such as opt-out options. (Flickr/MissTessmacher)
Junk mail is a major inconvenience to U.S. households and the environment, but there are steps that can be taken to reduce its volume, such as opt-out options. (Flickr/MissTessmacher)

One-third of all mail delivered in the world is U.S. junk mail. This comes to an annual 100 billion pieces total. You’re not the only one going postal—national polls show that between 80 and 90 percent of all respondents dislike junk mail and would take some action to reduce it if they could.

Considering that each household in the United States receives 18 pieces of junk mail for every one piece of personal mail each week, the waste has a significant impact on the environment. Junk mail creates some 51,548,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases every year, the equivalent of the emissions of more than 9 million average passenger cars or 11 coal-fired power plants. In fact, the junk mail carbon footprint equals that of Mississippi, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Idaho combined.

In addition, the total volume of American junk mail yearly requires the destruction of 100 million trees. Some 44 percent of this mail goes to landfills unopened. The majority of household waste consists of junk mail. Moving from household waste to societal waste, 40 percent of the solid mass that makes up landfills is paper and paperboard.

Recycling is a good first step, but it is not sufficient. About 100 million Americans—34 percent of the country—do not have access to curbside recycling. Instead, the ultimate answer could be a national Do Not Mail registry, much like the Do Not Call registry created by the enormously popular 2003 consumer rights bill that changed the entire nature of telemarketing.

While the campaign to make this a reality is ongoing, there are steps to take right now. You can contact some of the biggest offenders and direct mailing companies here in order to opt out of their junk mail. It is also free to register online for a Mail Preference Service at the Direct Marketing Association, which will allow you to receive more of the mail you want and less of the mail you don’t.

Visit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse for a more comprehensive list of the types of junk mail and solutions for each one. These vary from opt-out options for pre-approved letters of credit to instructions on how to remove your name from nationwide sweepstakes mailers. While these steps won’t guarantee a lifetime free of junk mail, they will help reduce both household and environmental waste.

Be sure to tell companies or charities that have your address, “Don’t rent or use my name.” If you want to be extra cautious, give slight variations of your name to different companies. This way, if you receive junk mail addressed to Jane P. Smith, you will know which company shared your information.

Companies get your name and address from a variety of sources. Mass-data collections will usually contain names that can be sold to willing buyers. Your name is worth anywhere from 3 to 20 cents each time it is sold. Direct marketers use telephone books or the Internet, but they want more than public sources so they can find out if buying by mail is a viable option for you. This information can come from warranty registration cards, survey responses, product inquiries, and credit card purchases.

The truth is, junk mail does not work. The response rate to direct mail solicitations averages less than 3 percent, and a rate of 0.25 percent is considered acceptable for the 500 million credit card solicitations sent monthly. To keep the junk out of your mailbox and the landfill take a creative approach to handling junk mail, or sign up for opt-out lists and the petition for a nationwide Do Not Mail registry. Taking steps to reduce junk mail will give your mailbox some breathing space, provide some peace of mind, and even clear the air a little.

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