Stop junk mail and help save the world

A rural postal delivery carrier in Morgan Hill in the 19th

When I first heard about the U.S. Postal Service’s raising the
cost of a first-class stamp to 42 cents in mid-May, I came up with
what I thought was a much better idea.
When I first heard about the U.S. Postal Service’s raising the cost of a first-class stamp to 42 cents in mid-May, I came up with what I thought was a much better idea. Instead of shelling out the extra penny, how about customers paying the post office a special service charge to stop carriers from delivering useless junk mail to their homes?

OK, I know my proposal sounds wild. But I bet there’s a gazillion junk mail-haters like me who’d take up the offer. Uncle Sam could pay off the national debt.

A while back, I performed an interesting experiment with my junk mail. To figure out how much unsolicited advertisements and bulk mail letters I received, during a three-month period I placed every scrap of direct marketing in a crate. Catalogs, credit card offers, donation requests – I was flabbergasted by how heavy it got. I judged the collected mass weighed at least 20 pounds.

I point my finger at Benjamin Franklin for America’s national excess of junk mail production. I’m talking about the same Founding Father dude famous for inventing the lightning rod and bifocal glasses. Not that Ben is to blame directly for devising direct marketing. But he started the ball rolling by figuring out how to make the post office much more efficient at bringing low-cost mail to the masses.

And now because the postal system works so well, most of the nice folks in the South Valley dread going to their letter boxes and facing the avalanche of unwanted bulk mail the postal carriers deliver. In one year, more than 114 billion pieces – about 4 million tons – of these bulk-mailed advertisements are sent to Americans. More than half of these marketing materials are thrown away unopened by the recipient.

But junk mail isn’t just an inconvenience and a waste of people’s time. It hurts the environment. One year’s worth of junk mail in the United States takes 62 million trees and uses 28 billion gallons of water to produce.

The annual production and trashing of all this mail requires the use of enough energy to power 2.8 million cars. One day’s worth of junk mail could provide enough energy to heat 250,000 homes in the United States – about twice the population of the South Valley.

The delivery of junk mail also requires the burning of hundreds of thousands of tons of fossil fuels in transporting it all by air freight and delivery truck from the marketers to your mailbox. This in turn produces tons of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming and the impending climate changes the world faces in the future.

Concerned about my eco-footprint, I took action to reduce the stream of direct marketing promotions coming into my mailbox. Remember that crate of letters I gathered? Well, I spent a couple of evenings – time well wasted watching TV – going through all this material and finding the ones that had postage paid envelopes included such as credit card and mortgage company offerings. Next to my address heading on the promotional letters, I scrawled a polite note asking them to take me off their mailing list.

I next inserted this into the appropriate return envelopes. I then put a stack of the return letters in the next day’s post. I also started calling the 1-800 numbers on the catalogs I’d received and asking the companies to take me off their mailing list.

It wasn’t long before I noticed that my mailbox was considerably emptier. I had a happy feeling I was doing something good for the environment by reducing my junk mail supply.

I soon discovered that I could have done this easier, however. There are various Web sites on the Internet that help people get their names off junk mail databases. There goes my wild idea of individual citizens paying the post office to stop delivering junk mail to them.

Some sites charge for this service, but I tried a free one called www.proquo.com and found it was fast and fun and easy to use. It took me about 20 minutes to click my name out of several national mailing lists as well as get my name on the national do-not-call list. The Web site promises that it can reduce up to 90 percent of the direct marketing material that’s brought to your mailbox.

Will one individual reducing his or her junk mail make a big difference in the world? Not really. But millions of Americans doing so definitely will help the environment and reduce our use of energy and water required to produce all that junk mail we toss out anyway. All us folks in the South Valley can reduce our junk mail and do our part to save our planet.

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