When Is Junk Mail Going to Disappear?

Published on May 10th, 2011 | by

About 7 months ago, following grad school I relocated to the great (not state although some are trying) District of Columbia. Although 7 months is not a very long time, one would think it would be long enough for me to stop receiving previous tenant’s junk mail. In fact, it’s not just one previous tenant, but I would say conservatively speaking, 5 previous tenants. Not to mention the coupons, catalogs, credit card offers etc. that occupy valuable space in my tiny mailbox. But it’s not just the space- it’s mainly the waste.

Most of my life has moved on line. I, like the majority of people use electronic mail (although Zuckerburg thinks he can make that a thing of the past, but that’s a different column) and receive correspondence and bills and junk through the interwebs. I must admit, my spam filters are pretty strong over email, but not so through traditional mail. According to ecofx.org via papercalculator.org, the average American receives 41 pounds of junk mail each year, which contributes to carbon footprint of 105 lbs. The detrimental effect on forests and the larger ecosystem due to this is in and of itself a problem. But the problem continues when almost half the amount of junk mail goes unread or unopened and only about 33% is recycled.

Of course the egregious waste of resources is a major concern, but so too is the time and money that it takes to get rid of this stuff. According to 41pounds.org, $320 million of local taxes are used to dispose of junk mail each year and transporting junk mail costs $550 million a year. It’s unclear whether that last cost is solely paid for by the businesses sending the junk mail or the taxpayers or both, but the point is a lot of money is being wasted and the ROI is unclear. There’s a decent chance however that the small “processing” fees you pay for you credit card, car insurance, concert tickets etc. go towards this direct mail campaign so in affect you are paying for this twice.

Finally, we have the issue of fraud and security. Companies pay for the rights to your information and as many of you who have gotten your credit card number stolen or worse, know, there’s ample leeway for intrusion on some of your basic but important information.

I, personally am surprised there has been less government intervention on this issue than I would expect (there has been some movement in the UK) and I am clearly in the dark as to the benefit of these seemingly expensive, environmentally destructive and simply outdated practices for the corporations that are so diligently engaged in this process. If someone can enlighten me, I would very much appreciate it.

Image Credit by twitchris via Flickr under a CC license


About the Author

Jonathan has worked in both journalism and various facets of small business development over the past eight years. Most recently, he graduated from the Monterey Institute of International Studies (graduate school of Middlebury College) in 2010 with an MBA and an MA in International Development Policy. His interests include SME development and its role in economic growth, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as how CSR/Sustainability measures impact both business operations and the communities in which businesses operate. While at MIIS he worked as a summer fellow involved in small business consulting in Accra, Ghana and was an active member of the MIIS Net Impact chapter. As a life long traveler, Jonathan has been fortunate to have lived in, worked in or visited over 20 countries on 5 continents and he truly hopes that he will be able to continue this trend.