Friday, April 25, 2008

Green Friday: Buried in junk mail, part 1--catalogues

I, as you might know, am postally obsessed, but even I hate getting junk mail.

Twenty or so years ago, when environmentalists were seen as long-haired, wacky university students, my husband and I (who were long-haired university students) did some wacky things to slow the flow of junk mail coming through our mail slot. We stuffed it into postage-paid envelopes and sent it back. We regularly sent huge envelopes of it to the federal minister of the environment, asking for regulations or programs to be set up to reduce unwanted mail. Glossy paper wasn’t recyclable then, so I would call companies that sent glossy advertisements and (politely) berate them.

It’s gotten a bit easier to say no to junk mail. In this post I’m going to talk about the fattest, heaviest form of junk mail there is: the mail-order catalog.

According to Catalog Choice, producing the 19 billion catalogues mailed to U.S. households each year uses 3.6 million tons of paper made from 53 million trees. The energy used to make this paper is enough to power 1.2 million homes for a year; 5.2 million tons of carbon dioxide are emitted (that’s equivalent to a year’s worth of emissions from 2 million cars) and 53 billion gallons of waster water are produced (that’s 81,000 Olympic-sized pools).

Yikes! How much of those resources is going straight from the forest and factory into the garbage without serving any useful purpose?

Of all the catalogues that get crammed into our dinky mailbox, only one ever gets read: my daughter spends hours poring over her American Girl catalogue four times a year. The rest get a cursory glance to see if there are any pages that would be good for making envelopes or for a craft project, and then they go straight into the recycling box (well, truth be told, more often than not they sit around on my office floor for quite a while before that cursory glance).

If I want to browse a retailer’s catalogue, I do it online. It’s true that you can’t curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and an online catalogue the way you can with a print one, or bring it into the bathroom with you. But it saves resources and I spend less money. Instead of a beautiful glossy catalogue arriving unexpectedly in the mail to tempt me to buy things I wouldn’t otherwise have thought of buying, I go online when I need something.

Even though we don’t read them, we still receive a lot of catalogues. We even get them addressed to people who lived here years ago. Since this is “Enough garbage, already” month for me, I’m adding another step to my glance-and-toss catalogue processing routine: finding out how to stop them from arriving at all. As each one arrives, I contact the company and ask to get off their mailing list.

If you live in the United States, there’s an easy way to stop receiving catalogues you don’t want or duplicates. At Catalog Choice, you can ask to be removed from the mailing lists of approximately 200 merchants who have pledged to honor your request (thanks, Hayley, for this information).

Keep in mind that merchants don’t want to give up your address, especially if you have purchased from them in the past. It may take some time and perseverance to get off those mailing lists. But more and more retailers are waking up to the fact that sending catalogues to people who don’t want them is a waste of resources and money.


Hayley Townley, Breast Cancer Survivor Extraordinaire! said...

I have managed to stop most of my catalogs, but am left wondering why Frederick's of Hollywood ever stopped sending me theirs. (note to self..)

Barbara said...

Catalogs were my number # 1 Junk Mail problem and CatalogChoice was the answer. There are also a couple more steps that you can do (and their free) to get yourself off these mailing lists.

I put together a Squidoo Lens on this topic will all the information, links and research. Check it out here at and help spread the word!

Pondside said...

What I can't stand is the junk that comes in the newspaper. Sometimes there's more junk than news........come to think of it, there's normally more junk than news!

Carmi said...

I'm amazed that in this day and age of online technology, some companies still resort to the giant hammer strategy of sending out zillions of catalogs to whoever's on their list.

The flagrant waste really galls me - almost as much as the daily newspaper that arrives at my doorstep with TWO IDENTICAL sets of flyers.

Time to cancel my subscription, I think. I've already set up the RSS feed to update my BlackBerry every morning. It isn't quite as fulfilling as unfolding the paper at the breakfast table, but it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

Margerie said...

Thanks for the link Susan! I already declined a bunch of annoying catalogs. To be honest, my husband gets our mail from the P.O. box most of the time. All the catalogs go right into the recycling bin they have next to the boxes. But what a waste! I can't believe these companies send out a catalog every month for YEARS when we never buy anything from them.

I will have to check out your lens Babara!

We also cancelled our newspaper subscription. Mostly because our local paper really sucks. And I hate the ads. We just check the online version everyday and then get our national, international news from online sites also.

Thanks Susan- I feel like I did a little spring cleaning today!

Will said...

Though there are reports of some catalog companies refusing requests made through catalogchoice, it seems to do a decent job for some people.

Unfortunately, catalogs, though certainly paper intensive, are only a small piece of the junk mail problem: coupons, credit card offers, ads, etc., also contribute to the 100 billion pieces of junk mail sent every year.

We need to address all junk mail, and we need to do it in an enforceable way. Sign ForestEthics' petition for a national Do Not Mail Registry at .

With deforestation accounting for 20% of global carbon emissions, this is a 20th century practice that will not meet the challenges of the 21st.