What are the issues?
Over 85 billion pieces of junk mail are delivered in the U.S. every year—almost 300 pieces of junk mail for every man, woman, and child in the country. The U.S. Postal Service, which sees junk mail as a major source of revenue, promotes this by charging low rates for junk mail. Most people know that junk mail is a nuisance, but it can in some cases also represent a personal security risk—for example, identity thieves may attempt to activate “pre-approved” credit or insurance offers for their own use. The environmental impacts are also huge. Producing the 4.65 million tons of junk mail sent every year uses a staggering 111 million trees and enough water to fill 160,000 Olympic swimming pools, while producing as much CO2 as 2.3 million cars. In the end, almost a third of this junk mail—1.7 million tons—is not recycled and ends up taking up space in our landfills. Whether it is recycled, used for energy recovery or sent to a landfill, it is taxpayers, residents and businesses that pay the price for managing this unwanted product at the end of its life. In fact, PSI estimates that managing junk mail in the U.S. costs more than a quarter of a billion dollars annually—enough to pay the salaries of more than 6000 teachers.
Despite public support for the idea, we still do not have a national “do not mail” registry to provide a convenient one-stop solution for people who wish to opt out of receiving junk mail. However, a number of services do exist to help you control the junk mail that winds up in your mailbox. Several opt-out services are listed in the “resources” section, below.
What is PSI doing to help?
Junk mail is a relatively new product area for PSI, but one in which we hope to do more work in the future. Our work so far has focused on encouraging consumers to reduce the amount of junk mail they receive by using existing voluntary opt-out services. However, as with other products, we will explore the benefits of both voluntary and legislated solutions to the problem of managing junk mail. Alternative solutions may include the creation of a national “do not mail” registry or extended producer responsibility programs for printed paper.
In 2013 and 2014, we produced a consumer-facing infographic on junk mail. The infographic highlights the social, environmental, and economic problems associated with junk mail and urges consumers to use existing opt-out solutions to reduce the amount that they receive.
In 2011 and 2012, we partnered with Catalog Choice (now the TrustedID Mail Preference Service) on a successful opt-out pilot project targeting the the City of Cambridge and the Town of Brookline, both in Massachusetts. This led to the creation of over 1,800 new Catalog Choice accounts and a reduction of 252 tons of solid waste in these communities, demonstrating consumer demand for a convenient, effective opt-out solution for phone books and junk mail.
To view existing product stewardship laws in the U.S., visit our State EPR Laws page. To view pending and active legislation in the U.S.—privileged content available exclusively to PSI Members and Partners—login here.
For more information, please contact Sydney Hausman-Cohen at (617) 236-4853.