Junk Mail: A Huge Waste of Trees and Time

Did you receive a catalog from Restoration Hardware last year? You would certainly remember if you had: the company’s record-breaking, 3,000-page annual “source book” arrived with a thud on doorsteps and sparked a flurry of negative comments on social media about the paper waste.

If unwanted catalogs and other kinds of junk mail are a source of frustration in your life, you’re not alone. Nearly 12 billion paper catalogs
are sent to U.S. homes every year, the majority of which end up in the trash without having ever been opened, due to limited recycling infrastructure in our country. This is not only a huge waste of our natural resources, it’s a huge waste of our time. Since the 1990s, n
ational reports have consistently shown that over 80% of U.S. residents don’t like to receive junk mail and wish they could make it stop.

Luckily, there’s hope! We’re thrilled to announce that The Story of Stuff Project is now managing operations of Catalog Choice, a free online service that helps you opt-out of unwanted catalogs and other types of paper junk mail. Our goal is to not just help save trees – the service has helped save nearly 1 million trees since its launch in 2007 – but also to help people experience more joy and simplicity by eliminating catalog clutter.

Aside from Restoration Hardware’s catalog brick or other unwanted catalogs arriving on our porches and being quickly tossed in the recycling bin, it’s rare that we consider the impacts of the paper industry. And I get it; a few catalogs here and there may not seem like a big deal. But we we consider the big picture of production, distribution and disposal of billions of these catalogs, it becomes quite clear that junk mail is a huge waste.

So why does so much junk mail get sent out in the first place, especially when we’re increasingly shopping on mobile devices? First, companies do better business when they reach consumers on numerous kinds of channels (such as a mobile device and a paper catalog). Second, the US Postal Service sends a good amount of “saturation mailings”, which are advertisements for local businesses sent to every home in a particular neighborhood. While we love our local post offices and merchants, we wish they could promote their businesses without generating so much waste.

It is important to recognize the companies that are printing catalogs more responsibly: Patagonia uses FSC-certified paper to print their catalog, and even Restoration Hardware purchased carbon offsets to print their massive source book! These are definitely steps in the right direction, but unfortunately, they’re not sufficient. Neither is recycling: recycling efforts can simply not neutralize the natural resource costs associated with the production of new catalogs. When we consider certain realities – water scarcity, consumer privacy concerns, or the increasing amount of purchases made online – is junk mail really worth it? We think not.

Catalog Choice is now open for business! We’ll be hard at work – not just helping you stop junk mail, but also building a movement to help stop paper waste at the source.

People can opt-out of junk mail – and they can also opt-in to the movement for biodiversity, sustainable forests, and a healthier planet.

See the original post at the Product Stewardship Institute’s blog. Photo credit to PSI’s junk mail infographic.


Ready, Set, Save Trees!

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