|Dear EarthTalk: It seems like I’m getting more junk mail than ever these days. How can I stop the deluge?|
|—Grace Dixon, Houston, TX|
First of all, you’re probably right! Junk mail has increased to a massive scale in recent years, with the average American receiving 16 pieces each week. While this might not seem like much, it adds up to weigh an estimated 41 pounds each year, according to leading anti-junk mail organization, 41pounds.org.
What’s more, 44 percent of it is never opened, though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates only about 40 percent is recycled properly. This enormous waste of paper has triggered the U.S. Postal Service to install over 4,000 postal recycling stations around the country. From a financial perspective, nearly $320 million of local tax money is used to dispose of and recycle of junk mail each year.
However, junk mail has environmental repercussions on a larger scale than individual inconvenience or waste of tax money. The paper for these mailings comes from more than 100 million trees each year. Not only does this cause deforestation and other direct problems to the local environment, it also creates an imbalance of the planet’s carbon levels. While forests usually act as “carbon sinks” to maintain constant levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, chopping down these trees and converting them into paper emits this stored carbon prematurely back into the atmosphere. On top of that, according to 41pounds.org, the carbon emissions from junk mailings each year are roughly equivalent to those of nine million cars.
ForestEthics.org, another leader in the charge against junk mail, estimates that junk mail produces 51.5 million metric tons of greenhouse gases each year. Ciara O’Rourke reports in The New York Times that this is roughly the same amount of emissions produced by heating 13 million homes in the winter. ForestEthics’ report, “Climate Change Enclosed,” likens junk mail’s carbon burden to 2.4 million cars idling 24/7 year-round.
Another negative impact of junk mail is the water waste it creates. As drought becomes an increasingly important problem across the country, Americans continue to waste upwards of 28 billion gallons of water on junk mail production and recycling every year.
Thankfully, these enormous environmental costs can easily be reduced by taking basic steps to get off mailing lists. By registering at 41pounds.org, junk mailings can be reduced by 80-95 percent for $41. Similar to a no-call list for telemarketers, you can also opt out of these mailing lists at catologchoice.org. By contacting dozens of these mailers directly, these organizations aim to eliminate junk mail waste.
After five years, 41pounds.org estimates “you’ll conserve 1.7 trees and 700 gallons of water, and prevent global warming emissions—and you’ll gain about 350 hours of free time.” Though readers should note you must re-register every five years, this simple action can make a huge impact in stopping the torrent of junk mail being crammed into your mailbox each week.