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It's hard to get companies to stop sending junk mail and catalogs,
but it is a colossal waste of paper. Here are some practical things
that nonprofits, businesses, and consumers can do about reducing all
the junk paper cluttering their offices.
Getting rid of junk mail is worthwhile not only for sanity
sake, but also has a huge environmental cost. According to the San
Francisco-based nonprofit, Forest Ethics,
more than 100 billion pieces of junk mail are delivered in the U.S.
each year, which is roughly one-third of all the mail delivered in the
world. An estimated 44% of that junk mail is thrown away unopened.
This volume of paper wastes 100 million trees annually and releases
yearly greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 9.3 million cars, or the
energy it takes to heat 12.9 million homes.
One important thing that organizations can do is to reduce or
completely stop your paper-based direct mailings. I know it's easier
said than done, and it's something we have been working on at TechSoup,
where we have, in the past, sent a catalog of all of our donated and discounted product
offerings to our membership. Our catalog is now only available in a digital form, but it took us years to switch formats. You
can find a digital version of recent products here, in addition to visiting the Get Products section of our site.
When I first posted on this topic in 2010 there was not a single, universal "Do Not Mail Registry" for opting out of receiving junk mail in the United States or internationally. At least in the United States, nonprofits, businesses, and individual consumers can now go to a website or make a toll-free call and either opt out of getting unsolicited credit card or insurance offers for five years or permanently. It doesn't get rid all junk mail, but certainly some of the most irritating mail.
The information is actually on the U.S. Federal
Trade Commission Consumer Protection website. There is now a service called Opt
Out Prescreen.com that is run by the consumer credit companies, Equifax, Experian, Innovis, and TransUnion. These are the companies that are permitted to include your name on lists used by
creditors or insurers to make offers of credit or insurance that
are not initiated by you ("Firm Offers").
They operate under under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), which also provides you the
right to "Opt-Out," which prevents Consumer Credit Reporting Companies
from providing your credit file information for unsolicited financial offers, which includes lots of junk mail.
The process is pretty simple. You go to Opt
Out Prescreen.com and then click on a big button that says "click here to opt in or opt out." You can also call toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688). When you call or visit the website, you'll be asked to provide certain
personal information, including your home telephone number, name, Social
Security number, and date of birth. The information you provide is
confidential and will be used only to process your request to opt out. I'm never crazy about giving out my Social
Security number, but in this case it seems okay and legitimate to ensure you're unsubscribed from lists.
In regard to paper catalogs, there are thousands of direct mailing companies and contacting them all would be nearly impossible. However, the closest thing I found to a silver bullet is the nonprofit service, 41pounds.org, which promises to completely remove you from up to 95 percent of the junk mail lists by contacting each organization from which you receive mail and/or catalogs for a one-time fee of $41 for five years.
If it's any comfort, other countries don't seem to be doing great on this either. The UK nonprofit, Junkbuster.org.uk provides a similar array of manual strategies for getting rid of junk mail.
Here are some methods to reduce the amount of junk mail you get:
For tips on how to deal with business junk mail, see the National Waste Prevention Coalition's Reduce Business Junk Mail website. How do you deal with junk mail? Share your experience on cleaning up and greening up your office in the comments below.
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.