In a single year Americans receive 19 billion catalogs in the mail. That boils down to 3.6 million tons of paper at the cost of 53 million trees. Ouch. And that’s not to mention all the rest of the junky junk mail that seems to flood our mailboxes like a swarm of locusts. We’ve collected the information here that you need to tame the catalog beast and stop junk mail in its tracks.
Production of the paper used for American catalogs uses the same amount of energy required to power 1.2 million homes in a year, and contributes annual emissions equal to that created by 2 million cars. That’s incredibly significant! All to get us to buy buy buy more junk. It’s just madness.
Unlike the National Do Not Call Registry that puts an end to commercial telemarketers with one simple registration, there is not as easy a free way to do so with mail. However, if you don’t mind paying a small fee, there is a great company called GreenDimes that promises to stop 90 percent of your junk mail and plant ten trees on your behalf. They also regularly review direct marketers’ mailing lists and remove your name when found there. I’d be happy to pay twenty dollars for the ten trees alone, but for stopping my junk mail too? Money well spent.
If you have the DIY inclination, you can reduce you junk mail for free and on your own. You need to tackle each category independently, but it can be done and often pretty quickly. Start with the category from which you receive the most unwanted advertising—catalogs are a great place to start since they use so much paper. Follow the directions below for each area, and know that you are doing a very good deed for the trees and the planet.
Direct Marketing Campaigns
Most junk mail is the result of direct marketing campaigns created to entice you to buy a product or service. Just about any time you give a commercial enterprise your name and address, they will most likely add it to a mailing list used for direct marketing. Information about your purchase or the service you received is added to the database in an effort to match your purchasing habits with new products and offers. Sometimes it’s obvious that your name will go on a mailing list, but sometimes they are very sneaky. For example, what do you think you are really getting when you fill out a product registration form? You’re getting on a new mailing list. Congratulations!
National Mailing Lists
The Direct Marketing Association (The DMA) is a trade association of businesses who advertise their products and services directly to consumers by mail, telephone, magazine, Internet, radio or television. Fortunately, they allow consumers to manage their preferences about how their names are used on mailing lists.
Managing your preference here can wipe out much, but not all, of your junk mail in one fell swoop. Hurray!
Catalog Choice allows you to select the catalogs you no longer want to receive and then they contact the catalog provider and request your name be removed form their list. You need to select all of the catalogs you wish to stop, but this service is great because it requires only one registration and they take care of all of the correspondence. You should have a copy of the catalogs that you wish to discontinue so that you can get the code from the mailing label. The rest is very simple.
Pre-Approved Offers of Credit
This one is especially annoying, since pre-approved offers of credit tempt you to accrue debt and pose identity theft opportunities. There are four credit bureaus in the United States: Equifax, Experian, TransUnion and Innovis. Many companies that you do business with share their data with these bureaus. In turn, the bureaus rent their lists to banks and creditors. Although specific financial information isn’t included in these databases, they do categorize the lists by general income brackets and consumer habits. The insurance industry also uses these lists to solicit business. Thankfully, the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act and some states’ laws require credit reporting companies to delete any consumer’s name and address from mailing lists at the consumer’s request. You can do so by calling (888) 5OPTOUT (888-567-8688) to opt out of the mailing lists for all four of the credit bureaus.
Sweepstakes and Prizes
You should know that sweepstakes and prizes aren’t generally awarded out of kindness. When you register to win that trip to Hawaii, your name is likely to appear on mailing lists used by other promoters of contests, sweepstakes and lotteries. These lists are almost always sold or rented. No number to call for this, just know that for every sweepstakes you join, chances are you are being entered on another list. Check the entry form, and decline to participate unless you are given the opportunity to “opt out” of any mailing lists or special offers.
Product Registration Cards
This one is so sly-fox tricky. When you send in a “product registration” card, these cards are usually sent directly a post office box in Denver, Colo., of Equifax Direct Marketing Solutions. They don’t go to the manufacturer of the product. These secondary companies compile buyer profiles and sell the information to other companies for marketing purposes. Experian also compiles consumer information from registration forms. Look at these cards. What do your hobbies, the number of people in your household, and your income have to do with the warranty of a product?! In most cases your receipt ensures that you are covered by the warranty if the product is defective. Check to see if there is a separate warranty card, or call the company to find out if there is a way to submit the product’s serial number without using the registration card. If you decide to send the registration card, include only minimal information: Name, address, date of purchase and product serial number.
By Melissa Breyer, Senior Producer, Care2 Green Living