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Because You Asked

What Should I Do With My Junk Mail?

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Can you guess how much junk mail you get each year? It’s enough to make a big difference.

Today’s Because You Asked post was written by and is republished with permission from EarthTalk®, from the editors of E – The Environmental Magazine.


Dear EarthTalk: It seems like I’m getting more junk mail than ever these days. How can I stop the deluge? –Grace D., Houston, TX


First of all, you’re probably right! Junk mail has increased to a massive scale in recent years, with the average American receiving 16 pieces each week. While this might not seem like much, it adds up to weigh an estimated 41 pounds each year, according to leading anti-junk mail organization, 41pounds.org.

What’s more, 44 percent of it is never opened, though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates only about 40 percent is recycled properly. This enormous waste of paper has triggered the U.S. Postal Service to install over 4,000 postal recycling stations around the country. From a financial perspective, nearly $320 million of local tax money is used to dispose of and recycle of junk mail each year.

However, junk mail has environmental repercussions on a larger scale than individual inconvenience or waste of tax money. The paper for these mailings comes from more than 100 million trees each year. Not only does this cause deforestation and other direct problems to the local environment, it also creates an imbalance of the planet’s carbon levels. While forests usually act as “carbon sinks” to maintain constant levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, chopping down these trees and converting them into paper emits this stored carbon prematurely back into the atmosphere. On top of that, according to 41pounds.org, the carbon emissions from junk mailings each year are roughly equivalent to those of nine million cars.

ForestEthics.org, another leader in the charge against junk mail, estimates that junk mail produces 51.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases each year. Ciara O’Rourke reports in The New York Times that this is roughly the same amount of emissions produced by heating 13 million homes in the winter. ForestEthics’ report, “Climate Change Enclosed,” likens junk mail’s carbon burden to 2.4 million cars idling 24/7 year-round.

Another negative impact of junk mail is the water waste it creates. As drought becomes an increasingly important problem across the country, Americans continue to waste upwards of 28 billion gallons of water on junk mail production and recycling every year.

Thankfully, these enormous environmental costs can easily be reduced by taking basic steps to get off mailing lists. By registering at 41pounds.org, junk mailings can be reduced by 80-95 percent for $41. Similar to a no-call list for telemarketers, you can also opt out of these mailing lists at catologchoice.org. By contacting dozens of these mailers directly, these organizations aim to eliminate junk mail waste.

After five years, 41pounds.org estimates “you’ll conserve 1.7 trees and 700 gallons of water, and prevent global warming emissions—and you’ll gain about 350 hours of free time.” Though readers should note you must re-register every five years, this simple action can make a huge impact in stopping the torrent of junk mail being crammed into your mailbox each week.

As for the junk mail you keep on receiving in the meantime? We here at Recyclebank recommend recycling it, of course (envelopes, address windows, staples and all!).

SOURCES
41pounds.org
Catalog Choice
ForestEthics

EarthTalk is produced by Doug Moss and Roddy Scheer and is a registered trademark of Earth Action Network Inc. If you’d like to ask EarthTalk a question, email earthtalk@emagazine.com (any answers published will appear on EarthTalk.org). To have your recycling or green living questions answered on Recyclebank.com, send us an email at wondering@recyclebank.com. Please note that questions may be edited for clarity and length. For questions about Recyclebank or your account, please contact member support.

What do you do with your junk mail? Share any green tips you have in the comments below!

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About the Author
EarthTalk, from the Editors of E - The Environmental Magazine
EarthTalk, from the Editors of E - The Environmental Magazine

EarthTalk is produced by Doug Moss and Roddy Scheer and is a registered trademark of Earth Action Network... more

  • Jeffrey C. 3 months ago
    good job
  • Marie W. 4 months ago
    This is my basic process for reducing/stopping junk mail (I receive NO junk mail - took at least 5 years to accomplish - well worth the effort)

    Check your free credit reports and choose ONE name to use for every account (mortgage, credit cards, car loans, loans, etc.) Correct any misspellings/variations of your name/address by calling/writing each account directly. After correcting with each account - contact credit bureaus and ask for the old misspellings/variations to be removed from your credit report. Your goal is to have a credit report with one name and one current address listed. I would also recommend removing any phone numbers from your credit reports as well.

    Add yourself to the Direct Marketing removal lists (directmail.com & dmachoice.org)
    Add ALL name variations (married/maiden), past addresses, phone numbers). Be warned you may start receiving new junk mail after doing this but at least ALL your mail is coming to you and NOT your old addresses.

    Add yourself to opt out prescreen (pre-approved credit card and insurance offers). Option of 5 years or permanent. Phone number 1.888.567.8688.

    DO NOT fill out a "permanent change of address" with the post office - Instead use "temporary change of address". Good for 6 months and renew for another 6 months. The permanent change of address form is how your junk mail follows you - it adds you to the NCOA (national change of address) database. You can contact the USPS to be removed from this database. This list is loaned to companies for their use - they must have your old address in order to receive the new address info.

    DO NOT write RTS on mail and return it. Most companies have a one time use list and can own any name that responds to the junk mail. The name/address becomes "property" from the rented list if you respond.

    I have many more tips if interested email me at removemyinfo80@gm***.com
  • Ashley H. 4 months ago
    This is very eye opening truth.
  • jacci u. 5 months ago
    You know the return envelopes that have prepaid no stamp necessary? Mail them back even empty. It creates postal revenue!
  • Gail B. 6 months ago
    Great ideas! I use the junk mail for crafts. I keep a basket by the door and toss what I don't want in! I also get often, the same junk mail at my post office box. I used to throw it out before leaving the post office. Now I bring in home and figure out what to do with it.
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