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How to stop junk mail

More than half of our mail is trash. Here’s how to keep it out of your mailbox.

overflowing-mailbox

Hey team, and welcome back to one5c. Today’s message is simple: Make less trash. Municipal solid waste—aka garbage—is the third-largest source of methane emissions in the U.S., which is the greenhouse equivalent of 23.1 million cars. And a lot of what comes into our homes is rubbish right off the rip. I’m talking about junk mail, the mirepoix of promotional mailers that pile up next to your keys and have your letter carrier cursing the latest “Hey, it’s Thursday!” sale at Macy’s. 

That’s why I asked Leslie to figure how each of us can cut that flow of trash off at the source. Share it with a loved one who’s still got last summer’s L.L. Bean catalog in a stack on the kitchen table. —Corinne

Flash-ka/Shutterstock

A Frontgate catalog, a Fresh Direct postcard, several indistinguishable offers for new credit cards, a bunch of catalogs and coupons from online stores you shopped at once: This mix of useless stuff is just a peek at what might be waiting in your mailbox right now. According to the U.S. Postal Service, 67 billion of the 127 billion pieces of mail sent in 2022 were a melange of advertising mail like catalogs, credit card or insurance offers, and coupons. Yup: 53% of all mail is junk.

That amounts to a lot of resources going into something most people don’t even want, says Deborah Williams, a lecturer at University of California Santa Barbara’s Environmental Studies department. Between 80 million and 100 million trees are cut down in the making of junk mail each year. There’s a dearth of peer-reviewed data on the topic, but by some estimates floating around the web, the emissions associated with production and distribution alone are equivalent to the tailpipes of 9 million cars

Sure, paper recycling rates are among the highest of all goods (around 68%), but for marketing mail it’s lower than that. The last time the EPA tabulated granular data for junk mail was 2005, and the recycling rate then was closer to 36%, with 52% headed to the landfill. 

Here in 2024—and despite our increasingly digital lives—the volume of physical mail is actually growing. Per USPS stats, junk has been steadily rising since 2020, perhaps because it’s lucrative. Those piles of paper generated $16 billion in revenue in 2022, an increase of about a billion and a half from 2021. 

You certainly can’t control the USPS, but you can control what lists your address ends up on. So where to start? There are easy ways you can significantly reduce the amount of useless crap that hits your mailbox. 

5 steps to stop junk mail

  1. Stop credit card and insurance offers. Operated by the four major credit reporting companies, optoutprescreen.com lets you get out of credit card and insurance offers. You can opt out for five years online, or you can print and mail a physical form to be off the hook permanently.
  2. Block catalogs, magazines & marketing mailers. The Data and Marketing Association (DMA) is the largest marketing trade association in the U.S., and it’s also one of the worst junk mail offenders. DMAchoice.org allows you to opt out of catalogs, magazines, and other marketing mail for a $5 processing fee.
  3. Find and slay more catalogs. Think of catalogchoice.org as a free (but more manual) version of DMA. It lets you say “no” to individual catalogs—some of which might not be associated with the DMA. 
  4. Nix coupons. To cut out unwanted coupons, go directly to the biggest purveyors like Valpak, Save, and Mspark to remove your address from their registers.  
  5. Address the dregs. If you take the first four steps, Williams says you should see your junk mail drop significantly after 3-4 months. At that point, look closely at the unwanted promos for websites or phone numbers where you can ask to be taken off mailing lists one-by-one. This applies to donor solicitations, political mailers, and member mail (think things like Costco or an alumni association).

Leslie Horn Peterson is a New York–based journalist covering a broad range of topics—from music and culture to home and families. She’s contributed to Gizmodo, Vice, Deadspin, and Dwell, among other pubs. 

In the news this week

  • The E.U. parliament voted to ban misleading marketing terms like “climate neutral.” On top of that, they’ve taken particular aim at markers that rely on carbon offsets—long used as cover for bad climate behavior—to substantiate their claims.
  • Donald Trump’s victory speech after winning the Iowa caucus serves as a preview of the climate arguments the candidate will trot out over the next 11 months, including jabs at EVs and promises to double down on drilling for fossil fuels.
  • Outgoing U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry told Bloomberg TV that the 2024 election will be crucial in determining how quickly we transition to a lower-carbon economy. A Trump victory might not stop progress entirely, he says, but it does have real potential to slow it down.
  • New data from environmental nonprofit Coltura says the key to majorly cutting down on gas usage in the U.S. relies on a small subset of drivers: those who go more than 110 miles a day. These gasoline “superusers” consume about one-third of all the petrol.
  • A study published in the journal Frontiers of Marine Science found that dragging nets on the ocean floor to catch fish (trawling) releases 370 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually. That’s the equivalent of more than 82 million cars—and substantially more than previously thought. May we suggest you try oysters instead?