Junk mail

One of our biggest sources of paper waste is (now "was") junk mail. It was amazing how much mail we accumulated by the end of each week. There was an occasional bill (though most things are online) and even the occasional check! But except for magazines we subscribed to, probably 90% was unsolicited.

Using less paper

Junk mail ©Janet Allen
Junk mail = wasted paper

As the years went by, we seemed to get on more and more lists, generating more and more mail. How much of this mail did we want or use? Very little of it. It went directly from our mailbox to the wastebasket, usually with a quick detour while we extracted any usable scrap paper, which sometimes actually amounted to quite a bit.

We've noticed a steady decline in "real" mail and a steep increase in junk mail over the past few years. Our real mail has declined because we do most of our communication online, and our junk increases because our name is being sold to many organizations and businesses.

Junk mail notebook ©Janet Allen
My notebook for junkmail

We had already taken action using Catalog Choice and the other formal ways of reducing truly junk mail a few years ago, and it did significantly reduce our mail.

As the amount of true mail has declined, this excess mail became more and more noticeable. It actually wasn't junk mail in the usual sense since we had some sort of relationship with the senders. Perhaps we had purchased something at that store at some point in the past. And since we donate to and/or have become members of many non-profits, we get their solicitations as well. These might be considered legitimate since we do have a relationship with those organizations, but the fact remains that 1) we contribute/renew on our own yearly schedule and 2) we don't look at those mailings anyway. They go directly from our mailbox to our recycling wastebasket, stopping only long enough to be opened to retrieve scrap paper. (We now have a large supply of 1/3 sheets of paper empty on one side!)

So until this summer, I resigned myself to opening all the rest to retrieve the fairly large amount of paper that we could use for scrap paper, then putting the rest into the recycling bin. Thank goodness that our county recycles this junk! (Note: I've read on Living Lighter that each year more than 100 million trees are turned into the 5.8 million tons of mail that end up as 450,000 garbage trucks worth of waste!)

We went along this way for quite a while, but it finally dawned on me that this was ridiculous. I wasn't reading it, only handling it (and feeling compelled not to waste the other sides of the papers included). This wasn't doing me, the organizations, or our forests any good. I resolved to spend the few minutes needed each day to contact the businesses and organizations sending these mailings each day and ask them to discontinue.

Over the past few months, though, I've taken action. This was partly because there was so much in the news about the Post Office's problems and partly because I had become pretty resentful of the time it takes to deal with this junk. Even if I didn't feel compelled to rescue what paper I could out of all of that mess, it takes time to sort out the real mail from the junk.

I've collected all the junk mail we get, then once or twice a week I've been either emailing or making phone calls asking to be taken off the lists. Initially I had thought that email would be easier, but in some cases, it was just too hard to find the appropriate email on the website.

I keep a little notebook listing the organizations I've contacted and the date I contacted them. Since some organizations contact me frequently, and since it takes a few months for the mailings to stop, it was hard to remember if I had already contacted them--hence the list. Each line in the list (in the photo) is one organization, and I have six pages so far! And each day I still get new junk …

It was interesting to find that some of these organizations have being taken off their list as a separate item on their phone tree! I guess I'm not the only one doing this.

I should note that there were organizations that I think may be charities that are excuses for a big CEO salary, but there were some organizations I respect and will continue my membership in. For these, it's all the more reason I don't want them to waste money sending stuff I have never responded to.

Another thing we did was to discontinue magazines that come with membership. For example, even though Audubon magazine is beautiful, I just don't have time to read it and I'd rather have them spend their money on bird conservation, not sending me a magazine that will just get recycled.

I discovered that some of the organizations I belong to rent out their subscriber names. This was the source of at least one snail mail subscription solicitation I received. I called the organization that had rented them out (which I discovered by the magazine telling me who they rented names from), and they removed me from the list they sell. I guess I understand that it's too good a source of income for organizations to pass up. After all, I want the organizations I belong to to succeed, and the organization they sold the list to is also a magazine I find interesting, though I don't currrently subscribe only because I have no time to read it. So I guess I can't fault them too much.

All in all, it's been somewhat time-consuming, but I'm really looking forward to the time in a few months (it takes a few months for the mailings to cease they tell me) when we'll just have mostly real mail in our mailbox—and for the amount of real mail we receive, once a week delivery would probably be adequate …

The bottom line is that it has so far been pretty easy to eliminate much of the useless mail we receive, though it took some initial effort and a little bit of time.