January 26, 2010

Seattle Council’s vote for a ‘Do Not Mail’ registry takes a stand for sustainability

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Living sustainably means more than recycling. It also means cutting back on all that stuff that lands on those railroad cars that get sent to landfills in central Oregon from Seattle or barged across the Pacific Ocean from Hawaii.

rita_hibbardwebStriking a blow for citizens who want to do their part, the Seattle City Council Thursday passed a resolution urging the Legislature to create a Do Not Mail junk mail registry akin to the Do Not Call registry for home phones. Yes, it will probably take federal action to get results. But it’s also true that you have to start somewhere. So take a stand, Seattle!

The resolution would keep catalogs, ads, direct mail and other unwanted solicitations out of your mailbox.It claims the “production, distribution, and disposal of unsolicited direct mail contributes to climate change by producing 51 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually – equivalent to that of 10 million automobiles. ”  A stunning 44 percent of all unsolicited direct mail arrives in landfills unopened, the measure states.

KOMO TV reports that some fear loss of jobs if the measure becomes state law, including the Seattle Mailing Bureau, a direct mail business that distributes unsolicited mail.

Seattle Mailing Bureau President Chad Richardson says if the state legalizes a Do Not Mail Registry, more than 40,000 people, including some of his employees, will lose their jobs.

But Seattle City Council President Richard Conlin tells KPLU the disposal of all that junk mail is costing city taxpayers real money. He estimates city residents dispose of several million pounds of junk mail each year.

“From the city’s perspective, it becomes garbage that we have to dispose of, and we have to pay for disposing of it,” he says. “And even if it’s recycled, recycling still isn’t as good as not having it in the waste stream at all.”

Last summer, Sightline’s Alan Durning wrote about how much junk mail he received over an entire year, and that was after doing everything he could to stop it .

Soon thereafter, I began using Catalog Choice assiduously at home. I also refreshed my subscription to the Direct Mail Association’s Mail Preference Service. I wrote to ValPak to plead for a reprieve from their thick wads of coupon mailers (my own letter carrier gave me the address). I was about to start calling other direct mailers myself, demanding they take me off their lists. First, though, before putting more of my own time or money into de-spamming my snail mail, I conceived an experiment. I decided to stockpile every bit of advertising mail I received for 365 days. I wanted to see what Catalog Choice and DMA’s program would do to stem the tide.

Then, for a year, he saved and weighed, everything he received for a year. Here’s the total:

  • 15 pounds of phone books
  • 5 pounds of neighborhood advertisers
  • 12 pounds of bleached paper glossy catalogs from merchants who ignored the catalog opt-out programs
  • 1 pound of political mail
  • 1 pound of mail from a youth soccer association
  • 16 pounds of miscellaneous junk mail
  • 17 credit card offers from an airline
  • 16 invitations to buy insurance

Judging from Durning’s experience, we need our elected representatives to take action our behalf. Durning is an experienced, dedicated environmentalist. And he was frustrated by the scary efficiency of the junk mail system. So if the Seattle City Council gains attention to this cause by passing this resolution, it’s a step.  A necessary step.

— Rita Hibbard

One thought on “Seattle Council’s vote for a ‘Do Not Mail’ registry takes a stand for sustainability

  1. Discarded direct mail represents just 2.4% of municipal solid waste, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the recycling recovery rate has grown nearly 700% since 1990.

    As a result, while direct mail volume in the United States has grown 57% in 15 years, the amount of discarded mail sent to landfills has remained virtually unchanged (2005 Municipal Solid Waste in the United States).

    According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, annual recycling rates for advertising mail have increased seven-fold since 1990, and continue to climb.

    You may want to find out what the other 98% of solid waste is.