Changing the Nature of Catalogs

Junk mail in the United States accounts for roughly 20% of all the world’s mail. Each year, more than 20 billion catalogs are produced in the United States alone. Many of them are unsolicited, most end up in a landfill, and until rececntly, almost all were made from the destruction of virgin forests. Groups like ForestEthics are working to change the way catalogs are produced and distributed, helping companies look at their catalogs with a view towards sustainability. In 2007, ForestEthics published a  progress report- their “naughty and nice” list- detailing which companies were most forward-thinking and which ones the most egregious offenders when it comes to mail catalogs.Topping the ‘nice’ list was Patagonia, which has long been at the fore-front of significant environmental initiatives. The catalog paper they use is made from 40% post-consumer recylced content and virgin content certified by the Forest Stewardship Council. Other companies on the ‘nice’ list included Victoria’s Secret, Williams-Sonoma, Dell, L.L. Bean, Timberland, Crate & Barrel, REI and J. Crew. The ‘naughtiest’ offender was Sears. According to ForestEthics,

Sears shaped the industry by introducing the first ever catalog, dating back to the company’s beginnings in the 1880s. With an estimated 425 million catalogs printed every year—270 million under the Lands’ End brand—Sears is one of the largest catalog producers in the world. And they’re the largest catalog company without responsible paper standards. Their catalogs have virtually no recycled content and use paper sourced from vital ecosystems and Endangered Forests, including the Canadian Boreal.

Other ‘naughty’ companies rounding out the bottom of the list included Sharper Image, Eddie Bauer, OfficeMax, Talbots/J. Jill and Neiman Marcus.

On the consumer end, ForestEthics and others such as Catalog Choice are helping to make it easier to opt out of mail order catalogs. Here are some facts about junk mail from the ForestEthics site:

Junk mail facts

In 2003, Congress created the national Do Not Call Registry—the most popular consumer rights bill in history. Today, people are waiting for a companion registry to end the onslaught of junk mail. Since 1991, polls have shown that between 80 and 90% of respondents dislike junk mail and would take some action to reduce it if given the opportunity.  Junk mail destroys our forests, natural resources and environment, and wastes our time and money.  A Do Not Mail Registry would empower us to stop junk mail from invading our homes and mailboxes, and protect our environment.

Junk Mail Overflows Our Mailboxes

  • Junk mail in the U.S. accounts for more than 20% of all the mail delivered in the world.
  • Every year American households receive a total of 98 billion pieces of junk mail  or 392 pieces of junk mail per person, which requires 6.1 million tons of paper.
  • Approximately 44% of junk mail goes to a landfill unopened,  yet Americans still spend eight months per lifetime opening junk mail.
  • The average person gets only 1.5 personal letters each week, compared to 10.8 pieces of junk mail.
  • In 2005 the United States Postal Service processed more junk mail than First Class Mail for the first time, beginning a trend that has continued every year since.
  • In 2005, 12.3 billion pounds of junk mail were produced, which is the equivalent weight of 1.6 million Humvees, all for a response rate of less than three percent!

Junk Mail Contributes to Climate Change

  • It takes more than 100 million trees to produce the total volume of junk mail that arrives in American mailboxes each year—that’s the equivalent of deforesting the entire Rocky Mountain National Park every four months.
  • The greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the manufacturing of 6.1 million tons of paper is equal to the greenhouse gas emissions of 3.5 million cars.

Boreal Forests are Devastated by Junk Mail

  • The Canadian Boreal, one of the forests being logged for junk mail, protects us from the effects of global warming, storing more carbon than any other terrestrial ecosystem on earth.  Despite this, the Boreal is being logged at a rate of two acres a minute, 24 hours a day.
  • The Boreal holds more fresh water than anywhere else on Earth.
  • The Boreal is home to indigenous communities who depend on the land for hunting, fishing, economic development and cultural activities.
  • The Boreal provides critical habitat to caribou and half of North America’s songbirds.

Landfills are Filled with Junk Mail

  • It takes the equivalent of 290,000 garbage trucks to dump unrecycled junk mail into landfills and incinerators each year.
  • By the year 2010, almost 50% of the solid mass that makes up our landfills is expected to be paper and paperboard waste.
  • State and local governments and their citizens spend hundreds of millions of dollars per year to collect and dispose of all the bulk mail that does not get recycled.
  • 5.4 million tons of catalogs and other direct mailings entered the U.S. municipal solid waste stream in 2001.

Junk Mail is Ineffective

  • A response rate of less than 0.25% is considered acceptable for the 500 million U.S. credit card solicitations that are mailed monthly.
  • Your name is typically worth three to 20 cents every time it is sold.

People Really Want a Do Not Mail Registry…And They Have Been Waiting Over 15 Years

  • Since 1991, national polls have shown that between 80 and 90% of respondents dislike junk mail and would take some action to reduce it if they could.
  • In September 2007, the Center for a New American Dream commissioned a national poll by Zogby International that found that 27% of respondents discard or recycle all ad mail without reading it, while another 47% discard or recycle most of it unread.  Only eight percent read it all.
  • In the Zogby International poll, 93% of respondents were aware of the Do Not Call Registry and 89% of them supported a Do Not Mail Registry to make it easier to opt out of unsolicited ad mail.

In 2003, Congress created the national Do Not Call Registry—the most popular consumer rights bill in history.  Five years later, we need a Do Not Mail Registry to stop junk mail from destroying our environment, wasting our time, and invading our right to privacy.

  • Tags: Business, Facts & Figures, Green Initiatives, Paper Trail, Waste

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  1. Full disclosure, I’m the Earth Class Mail PR guy.
    That said, I’m not going to go into a big pitch about what we do (we deliver postal mail online). I’d just like to say we are in 100% agreement with your goals, wish you the best of luck, and encourage you to check out our site for more info. Also, feel free to email me about how we might be able to help each other out.

    Comment by Jeff Wenker — September 9, 2008 @ 5:59 pm

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