Eco Wise

How to Junk Junk Mail and Other Paper Clutter

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Have a look inside your mailbox: Chances are, some of the items are things you didn't ask for and don't plan to read or use.

All that paper being trucked across the country has serious environmental consequences: Adults receive an average of 41 pounds of junk mail per year, according to the Center for Development of Recycling at San Jose State University. And the Center for a New American Dream reports that the total annual volume of junk mail sent in the United States consumes 100 million trees. That doesn't include the fossil fuels burned in transporting the mail, energy used to process the paper, and toxic bleaching agents and other chemicals used to treat and print it. Worse yet, much of that ecological damage is for naught: According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 44 percent of the unsolicited mail we receive heads to landfills unread.

Mail has its uses, but there are ways to minimize its impact on the Earth, from going electronic to reducing the number of mailings you receive. "Junk is in the eye of the beholder," says Laura Hickey, senior director of global warming education for the National Wildlife Federation and a steering committee member for the Environmental Paper Network, an advocacy group. "Sure, get the mail you want to get, but if there's some that you have no interest in, you can tell the merchant you don't want it."

Here are a few simple steps that will help save time, paper, petroleum -- and the planet.

  • For junk mail reduction, ProQuo ( is a useful new tool; sign-up is free, and the service culls a variety of lists and organizations that may have your information, allowing you to opt out of receiving mail from any of them. Or visit the Web site of the Direct Marketing Association's Mail Preference Service (, click on "Consumer Information"); for $1, you can remove yourself from members' mailing lists. To eliminate mailed credit card and insurance offers based on pre-approval, visit
  • Catalog Choice, a D.C.-based organization that Hickey is involved with, allows consumers to remove themselves from catalogue mailing lists on its free Web site, The organization says 19 billion catalogues are sent to U.S. consumers each year, at a cost of 53 million trees and 5.2 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions -- the equivalent of exhaust from 2 million cars. Even if you enjoy flipping through your catalogues, consider how long you'll keep each one. If you're likely to toss it (or simply toss it into a pile), consider browsing online instead.
  • Many banks, telephone companies and other services with monthly charges offer an online-only billing and payment option via their Web sites. You'll save paper and the hassle (and expense) of mailing in a check.
  • While e-mail and e-billing are less resource-intensive ways to communicate than regular mail, many people print out e-mails to read or for record-keeping. But this often results in printing extra pages with little more than a hyperlink or banner ad. Before you print, select "Print Preview" and choose only the page range that will be useful. GreenPrint, a company that makes software that helps reduce unnecessary printed pages ($35, downloadable at, Windows only), claims that if all new computers used its software, it would save 36 million trees and 117 million tons of CO2emissions per year.
  • Snail mail does have its place: There's nothing quite like a handwritten letter or card (just try to choose post-consumer recycled paper). If you don't plan to keep this season's holiday cards as mementos, be sure to recycle them.

-- Eviana Hartman

© 2008 The Washington Post Company