junk mail

The Catalog Conundrum

By Dave Deegan

We’re not exactly sure when it was, but we made a big mistake in the realm of “Murphy’s Law of Unintended Consequences.” You see, we bought some stuff from a Web and catalog retailer.

The problem wasn’t with the outdoor furniture – or was it something for the garden? Or maybe it was from that kitchen supply store? Whatever it was, the stuff we bought was fine. The problem is, once we bought something, we ended up on the mailing list to get catalogs from dozens of places we’d never shopped with or even heard of.

It’s not that all these places sell things we don’t really want or need – some of the goods look just fine. It’s just that, especially this time of year, we are getting buried under the daily mailbox delivery of catalogs. Dozens of them. Pounds of them. It feels like the scene from “Fantasia,” during the Wizard’s Apprentice, when the magic broomsticks just keep multiplying over and over again. Here come more catalogs. Sometimes we receive two copies of the same catalog, one addressed to me and one to my wife. Help! Please make it stop!

Sure, we dutifully separate them from our normal trash, and put them with our recyclables for curbside pickup. But it feels like an enormous waste of paper, ink, energy to produce and transport, postage costs and human effort to compile all these pages and pages (and pages and pages) of things we don’t particularly want to buy. All of these resources, and taxpayer-subsidized postage, for us to quickly put them into the recycle pile.

My wife, who has a bit more patience and practicality to solve this sort of thing than I do, got on the Web and discovered that consumers can remove their names from mailing lists to keep unwanted mail from being sent in the first place. A Web search shows that there are places that can help. Some of them are even free.

EPA has some recommendations for how you can reduce the amount of unwanted mail you receive.  Do you have any good strategies to reduce unwanted mail?

About the author: Dave Deegan works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. When he’s not at work, he loves being outdoors in one of New England’s many special places.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Put an End to Junk Mail

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and chairs EPA’s Multilingual Communications Task Force. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Recently, when I came home from work, I found my mailbox full of envelopes, magazines, brochures, ads, you name it—mostly unsolicited mail. What really bugs me is that all too often the important items (bills, letters, subscriptions) risk being lost in the pile of bulk mail. When you come to think about it, most of the time, the mail we receive is unsolicited and we clearly can live without. So that got me to thinking, how much paper is used to produce that unsolicited mail? How many trees have to die to produce this mail? What are some of the other environmental impacts? Water used in paper processing? Carbon dioxide released into the air to transport these unwanted items? How much actually ends in our landfills?

The statistics are quite alarming. More than 4 million tons of junk mail are produced yearly. Over 50 percent of this unsolicited mail ends up in landfills annually. While the quantity of paper waste seems overwhelming, there are things we can do to put a stop to these unwanted deliveries. For example, there are various websites where you can register in order not to receive unsolicited advertising mail and to prevent advertisers from sharing your name and address with similar companies.

Furthermore, there are other steps we can take to reduce paper usage and economic costs of bulk mailings. How about using technology? You can use the Internet to check out company ads electronically. You can bookmark your favorite Web sites instead of printing them. Use scrap paper for drafts or note paper. And if efforts to reduce waste at the source fail, let’s recycle! Please visit our website for some useful tips.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.