Greening your future, part one: junk mail

The average household can receive as much as 69 pounds of junk mail annually.

New Years is a time to reflect on the past and plan for the future. Making a ‘new year’s resolution’ is a way to identify ways to improve the future, whether it is for you, your family, community or the environment.

Three impactful - yet easy – actions that you can adopt to improve your life and the environment are reducing junk mail, waste and plastic bottles. Greening your future will give you information on junk mail (part one) and plastic bottles (part two). For information on reducing waste, especially around the holidays, read the Michigan State University Extension article, “Season of giving – Not discarding”.

The average household can receive as much as sixty-nine pounds of junk mail annually. Eliminating unwanted and unsolicited mail will save trees, fuel, energy and other resources in the production and delivery of these items.

Some basic facts about junk mail:

  • 24 trees equals one ton of paper. It takes 96 million trees annually to produce all this junk mail.
  • 2,500-6,000 gallons of water are used to make each ton of paper used for junk mail. That works out to be 10-24 billion gallons of water used annually to produce junk mail.
  • Only 50 percent of all junk mail is recycled. The rest is thrown away to be landfilled or incinerated. That means 48 million trees are wasted to produce junk mail that is immediately thrown away.
  • 245,000 homes could be heated annually with the energy used to make junk mail.
  • Finally, individuals spend approximately eight months over the course of their lives handling junk mail – opening, scanning or reading, then discarding it.

To reduce or eliminate unwanted junk mail, there are several things you should do:

First, contact the Direct Marking Association (DMA). This association represents nearly 3,600 companies nationwide and has an “opt-out” service. This service can be used online (free) or by mail (very small charge). Contact them at DMAChoice.org. This service will allow you to choose which mail you want to continue to receive and which companies should stop mailing you.

Second, contact the Credit Bureaus. The three major credit bureaus, Experian, Transunion and Equifax, Inc., represent nearly all of the “pre-approved” credit applications you receive. You could send each application back using their postage requesting to be taken off their mailing list. However, this tactic, while satisfying, usually doesn’t work.

Instead, go to OptOutPrescreen.com or call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (567-8688). This will allow you to be removed from the three major credit reporting bureaus BUT only for five years. You will then need to re-contact them to opt-out again. To permanently remove your name from this type of unsolicited mail, the form is available at the website but you must send it to each bureau.

Finally, recycle all your junk mail. At least all the trees, water and fuel will get recycled into new material so it is not wasted. Before recycling, remember to omit any personal information (name, address and account numbers) or other identifying data. Always shred “pre-approval” credit application forms before recycling. Identity thieves have gotten a hold of these applications and taken out credit in other people’s names!

For more information on opting out of unsolicited mail, phone calls and email, go to the Federal Trade Commission site. For information about plastic water bottles, read part two of this series.

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