Monday, December 3, 2007

Getting Rid of Junk Mail

Back in October, as part of Blog Action Day, I made a vow to learn more about environmental issues. Admittedly, I didn't know where to start. There are many, many environmental issues. And for someone who is not an environmental expert by any means, it is overwhelming to just delve right in. Plus there's my personal issue of interest. In all honesty, I find "environmentalism" to be kind of boring. I do realize that I'm probably going to hell for thinking that (and writing it out!). I mean, I do get annoyed at people who drive SUVs. Especially in a big city like Chicago where one isn't off-roading on a daily basis. But I'm not sure if my annoyance is due to the fact that SUVs take up huge parking spaces in the limited street parking we have and/or if it's because they're big-ass gas guzzlers.

Anyway, I find environmentalism to be sort of a self-righteous area. Environmentalists are always judging you and tisk-tisking you. I mean, so what if I still use Aqua-Net aerosal hairspray and burn styrofoam on a daily basis. This is a free country.

Okay, I'm kidding. But I really do find environmentalism sort of boring. I think much of this feeling is because I feel pretty helpless about stopping environmental destruction and global warming. We have these powerful capitalist machines in place convincing our leaders that profit is more important than the Earth on which we live.

Perhaps that's why it's important for us, the common people, to take what small steps we can- and hope that enough other people take these steps so it all adds up in some significant way.

And so today, I want to talk about small steps with regard to a major, wasteful annoyance in our capitalist society: junk mail. Those bits of paper that tell us that to companies, we are not human beings, but potential consumers.

Every day, I receive various credit card offers, student loan consolidation offers, and catalogues. I also receive daily requests in the mail to donate money to "save the children!" or "help elect [insert politician]" or "stop the war!" See, these companies and nonprofits are using the idea that "if enough people give a little bit of money, we can make a whole lot of money."

Well, I say we use that principle to do some common good for the environment. Minus the money part. I'm sure you all get enough requests to give your money away, also.

To illustrate the problem, I saved all of the junk mail I received for 1 week and made a pile out of it. At first I was worried that I would only get a couple pieces of junk mail and not have an impressive pile to show off. But alas, look:

If I, alone, am getting this much junk mail, how much are other people getting? And doesn't this take a toll?

Here are some basic facts about Junk Mail:

The majority of household waste consists of unsolicited mail.

100 million trees are ground up each year for unsolicited mail.

It wastes 28 billion gallons of water for paper processing each year.

More than half of unsolicited mail is discarded unread or unopened; the response rate is less than 2%.

The result is more than 4 million tons of paper waste each year.

It is difficult to recycle, as the inks have high concentrations of heavy metals.

$320 million of local taxes are used to dispose of unsolicited mail each year.

It costs $550 million yearly to transport junk mail.

Scarce landfill space disfigures rural areas and pollutes ground water.

We each get about 40 pounds of junk mail a year, more than a tree's worth per family!

In addition to the millions of trees used to produce junk mail, are the externalities associated with disposing of junk mail. Something I had not thought about until reading these basic facts is the cost that we all pay, as opposed to the company, for throwing away junk mail that most of us do not even want.

So, what can we do?

The New American Dream website offers some tips:

1. You can send an e-message to members of Congress urging them to create a "Do Not Junk" Registry that is similar to the Do Not Call Registry for telemarketing.

2. Another important step is to remove your name from mailing lists circulated by the 3 major credit reporting bureaus. Credit card companies use these lists to send you credit card offers. In addition to being annoying, credit card offers also increase your risk of being a victim of identity theft- as these offers are sometimes sent to your former residences or intercepted by criminals.

To get your name of these lists, call:

1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688)

"The number - which connects you to a recorded message - works 24 hours a day. You will be prompted to give your full name, address, telephone number and social security number."

3. Get Your Name Off Junk Mail Lists

At The New American Dream website, you can fill out a form to generate letters to send to the major direct mailers. Sending these letters to direct won't remove you from all junk mail lists, but it will be a good start.

All of these steps are really easy to take. In fact, I just did all of them. In addition to being good for the environment, you will rid one annoyance from your life!

(As an aside, can I just say how much I dislike junk email?! That we have to create and use filters and list our contacts as "safe" and miss important emails just so some company can offer us penis extensions, horoscope readings, and psychic consultations really annoys me. Clearly some people are keeping these companies in business. But do we all have to suffer for it?)

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