Over 100 billion pieces of unsolicited mail are stuffed into U.S. mailboxes each year. Not only is this junk mail considered by many to be simply annoying, it is also extremely wasteful. Most of the 100 billion pieces of paper are thrown away, contributing greatly to this country’s waste levels. The AFP reports that at least one billion dollars is spent per year on mail disposal.
Some cities have taken notice and plan to fight the waste. This week, cities including Chicago, Berkley (CA), and Ithaca (NY) have begun a program targeting unsolicited junk mail. A mail preference service gives residents the ability to stop receiving junk mail. Designed by Catalog Choice, residents can sign up for the program on a local website.
According to GreenBiz, cities pay roughly $10/household on collection and disposal costs -- the savings become significant when looking at cities like Chicago, a region that contains over one million households.
The cities will not only save money, but they will also drastically cut down on waste and improve the environment. According to Suzanne Malec-McKenna, Commissioner of Chicago's Department of Environment, “We've identified waste reduction as a crucial strategy to meet the goals of our Chicago Climate Action Plan.”
This is not the first initiative taken to cut down on unsolicited mail in cities. Last month, San Francisco proposed a ban on unsolicited Yellow Pages phone books. Nearly one million books are distributed to San Francisco alone each year, wasting over five million pounds of paper. Estimates show that local governments spend $54 million to dispose of the phone books, and thus San Francisco came up with their cost-cutting, waste prevention plan.
While only a few cities have adopted the mail preference service, Catalog Choice still offers a way for other people to opt out of some junk mail. Their website lets recipients control the unsolicited mail that they receive by entering a zipcode and selecting to leave certain mailings.
Beyond Catalog Choice, there are other proactive measures that mail recipients can take to cut down on their junk mail. Catalogs often offer a phone number or web link where a recipient can choose to remove himself from their mailing list. People can also sometimes contact coupon and credit card companies directly, requesting to have their name removed from lists.
TreeHugger suggests using websites like Direct Marketing Association to fight junk mail. Other websites allow you to opt out of specific mailings -- for example, recipients can request to not receive ValPak coupons or credit offers.
If the mail preference service works, this opt-out plan may have a bright future for many more cities. As Catalog Choice’s Chuck Teller explains to AFP, the service is “win-win” for both consumers who don’t want junk mail, and cities who want to save money. It seems the only ones losing are the junk-mail solicitors.