Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Junk Mail Weighs on Their Minds
by John Kelly
When Margaret Reynolds worked as a technical editor, she learned an important lesson: Numbers count.
Data. Statistics. Proof . That's how you get your message across.So last year, disgusted by the amount of unwanted catalogues she received in the mail and worried that the planet was sinking under the sheer weight of them, she decided to do something.
"I thought, 'Well let's just find out what we're dealing with here,' " said Margaret, 66.
She started a routine: saving the catalogues as they came in each day, piling them in boxes and then lugging the boxes to her bathroom at the end of each month. She weighed them on the bathroom scale, photographed them, noted the poundage and then put them into the recycling.
The bottom line: 165 pounds of catalogues in 2005.
"I just keep thinking about the trees and the landfills," Margaret said. "There's got to be a better way."
Margaret admits that she does order from the occasional catalogue. She made exactly 11 purchases from them last year. But she wishes marketers wouldn't send what appear to be the same catalogues over and over again to her Springfield home.
"I am not really a campaigner," Margaret said. "I'm a bird-watcher, and I love to do my artwork. I love to take care of my grandchildren and teach them about bugs and growing plants. I'm an ecologically minded sort of person, but I'm not out there campaigning or knocking on doors."
The folks at the Center for a New American Dream in Takoma Park are campaigners. Their latest crusade is Junk Mail Awareness Week, which they will mark Oct. 1 to 7, just as the avalanche of holiday catalogues begins. The nonprofit group is urging states to adopt do-not-mail registries, similar to the federal do-not-call list established three years ago.
"We just try to help people consume responsibly," said the center's Sarah Roberts . "Our motto is 'Get more of what matters out of life.' "
In the big scheme of things, the Pottery Barn catalogue might not matter.Unless, of course, you're Pottery Barn. Catalogues are a symbol of our prosperity, of the endless choice that comes with being an American. We truly are a rich nation if we can support a new version of the Victoria's Secret catalogue every two weeks or a Williams-Sonoma catalogue that's as lavishly illustrated as an illuminated manuscript.
But 165 pounds a year per person?
The Direct Marketing Association says that far from harming the environment, catalogues help it, by reducing the number of cars headed to shopping malls. Direct mail, they say, accounts for only about 2 percent of the country's total municipal solid waste. Then there's the argument that junk mail keeps the Postal Service afloat.
"We certainly wouldn't want to see a drastic and expensive and unnecessary government program created that would probably do more harm than good," said the association's Pat Kachura .
I think it's inevitable that catalogues will diminish over time, do-not-mail list or not. As more and more people look online for product information, catalogues won't be needed. I don't know if the UPS truck driving to my house is better than me driving to the mall.
Margaret said she still keeps track of the catalogues she receives.
"It's about the same as it was by August of last year," she said. "I haven't gotten my totals collected, but it certainly hasn't declined at all."
Catalogue RollingAlthough there is no national do-not-mail registry, you can reduce the amount of unwanted solicitations you receive by visiting http://www.dmaconsumers.org/ . It costs $1 to register for the "Mail Preference Service." Direct Marketing Association members are required to strike those names when compiling their lists. To stop credit card offers or insurance come-ons, go to http://www.optoutprescreen.com/.
As for stopping catalogues, it's straightforward, if labor-intensive: Call the toll-free number on the catalogue and ask to be stricken from the rolls.
For information on Junk Mail Awareness Week, go to http://www.newdream.org/junkmail/index.php.