What do you do about junk mail?

Typical advertising mail

Typical advertising mail (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Click here for a Good Dirt Radio 5-minute eco-spot on junk mail.

For most people, paper junk mail is a nuisance and a waste of air cleaning trees. Americans cut down over 100 million CO2 absorbing trees each year just for junk mail and that which is not recycled, ends up in a landfill or incinerator, creating a massive amount of greenhouse gases. Burning fossil fuels for the paper, ink, printing and transportation for over 100 billion pieces a year, puts around 50 billion metric tons of CO2 into our fragile atmosphere. Junk mail’s impact is equivalent to the energy used, and pollution from, over 9 million cars or heating 13 million homes through an average US winter. Not only is junk mail a direct cause of climate changing pollution but sorting, reading and recycling it can take up to 8 months of your life. Sure, it’s often informative for a few, but the enormous volume of paper junk mail is adversely affecting the biosphere. How can we take steps to reduce unwanted junk mail and how might that reduce climate-changing pollution? Join us to hear about services that can stop your junk mail and help the biosphere.

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Read transcript below.

Welcome to Good Dirt Radio… reporting on positive solutions taking root.

For most people, paper junk mail is a nuisance and a waste of air cleaning trees. Americans cut down over 100 million CO2 absorbing trees each year just for junk mail and that which is not recycled, ends up in a landfill or incinerator, releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases.  Burning fossil fuels for the paper, ink, printing and transportation for over 100 billion pieces a year, puts around 50 billion metric tons of CO2 into our fragile atmosphere.   Junk mail’s impact is equivalent to the energy used, and pollution from, over 9 million cars or heating 13 million homes through an average US winter.

Not only is junk mail a direct cause of climate changing pollution but sorting, reading and recycling it can take up to 8 months of your life.  Sure, it’s often informative for a few, but the enormous volume of paper junk mail is adversely affecting the biosphere. How can we take steps to reduce unwanted junk mail and how might that reduce climate changing pollution?

Leigh Cushing is the Community Campaigns Coordinator for the Boulder, CO nonprofit EcoCycle.   Her zero waste outreach programs address issues from composting and recycling to junk mail, and she says consumers who reduce their yearly waste stream by even 50% can reduce their carbon emissions by around 6000 lbs.   On their website, ecocycle.org, you can sign up for an inexpensive but valuable service that stops your junk mail, saving energy and pollution.

Cushing:   Our mission is to make Boulder County a model zero waste community for the rest of the world.  And we absolutely classify getting off of junk mail as a step toward zero waste. If people are able to look at the larger picture, and it’s not just something that’s showing up in your mailbox that’s annoying to you, but we’re cutting down so many important trees in the production of this mail that nobody even really wants and that includes phone books and credit card offers and all kinds of things. We really do have the power to change that and its a pretty simple solution, a really easy program to participate in to make a huge impact on the environment.      

3 brothers from the SE Michigan area found that an average household receives around 850 pieces or 41 pounds of junk mail each year.   Well aware of its impact on their lives and the biosphere and inspired to help solve the junk mail problem, they started the nonprofit ’41pounds.org’.  Brother Sander DeVries describes their process.

DeVries:   So what we did is compiled a list of email addresses, addresses, websites, any way we could to get off these different mailing lists.   We did it with a bunch of friends and family and we thought it was just a great idea because it worked.   And we thought, you know what, people don’t want to go through the work of actually doing this themselves. Lets offer a service where we can take care of it for them and we can eliminate people’s junk mail with just a few clicks of the button on our website, signing up for 41 pounds.  It covers everyone at the household and if you move, we’ll follow you.  You don’t have to pay an extra charge to change your address.

For $41 and your name, address and permission, 41 pounds.org will stop your junk mail for five years.  And $15 of that goes to other non-profit services that support zero waste and preserving and planting trees.

DeVries:   People are using reusable bags, reusable water bottles, they’re driving electric cars and this should be one of those things people do because it’s a huge, huge waste and it’s really simple to get off these mailing lists.  But so far, in our five years, we have saved over 44,000 trees and stopped over 5 million pounds of junk mail.   

Cushing:  By helping yourself, you’re also helping the environment and it’s absolutely worth it. You spend a little bit of time and you can save all these resources by getting off of junk mail.        

DeVries:  Just one person doing it has quite an impact but when you get hundreds of thousand of people doing it, you can really make a huge difference… for us now and for our kids going forward in the future. 

We urge invite you to lobby your state and federal representatives for a national junk mail preference list, a simple action that could lead to less climate pollution, fraud and identity theft.  Many folks are returning their junk mail in the prepaid envelope, sending a message to advertisers to stop the waste and pollution.  But, eliminating your junk mail is a quick, inexpensive and effective action you can take right now with EcoCycle, 41 Pounds or other junk mail services. For more information about stopping your junk mail, please visit us at gooddirtradio.org.

Change happens when a critical mass of citizens learn about their options and take action.  Enough people stopping their junk mail, can help change the course of climate history.

I’m Tami Graham and I’m Tom Bartels.  Thanks for joining us on Good Dirt Radio, digging up good news…. for a change.