Environment groups seek to help consumers in holiday catalog flood
To help stem the tide, three environmental groups have set up a free online service to get people off retailers' mailing lists — and save some trees along the way.
By the numbers19 billion: Number of catalogs mailed in the United States each year, according to environmental groups.
53 million: Number of trees used to make the catalogs.
290 million: Gallons of gas saved if every American eliminated two trips to the mall each year by catalog shopping, according to the Direct Marketing Association.
Want to opt out?Here are four services that can help reduce your catalogs and junk mail:
Catalog Choice: This Web-based free service says it will allow users to stop getting catalogs from more than 1,000 retailers.
Mail Preference Service: Offered by the Direct Marketing Association, which represents mass mailers, this service costs $1 and will keep your name from being placed on future mailing lists for three years, but it will not stop catalogs and other mail advertising materials you already receive.
GreenDimes: For $15, GreenDimes will send you customized, preprinted postcards to send to retailers to stop getting catalogs and junk mail. The organization uses part of the proceeds to plant trees.
41Pounds: This group contacts 20 to 30 direct-mail companies on your behalf to stop bulk mailings, and it provides stamped, preaddressed postcards to send to retailers that require signed opt-out requests from consumers. Part of the $41 fee goes to community and environmental organizations.
NEW YORK — The signs of another holiday season are everywhere. Green and red decorations are showing up in stores, and the nation's mailboxes are bulging with catalogs.
A new service, started by three environmental groups, is giving people a chance to gain some control over the postal flood tide that inundates them with billions of catalogs a year.
Called Catalog Choice, the online service allows people to compile a list of catalogs they do not want to receive. The service then contacts the retailers with a request to take the person's name off their mailing lists or makes a downloadable file available that merchants can feed into their mail database.
"Some people want to get some catalogs, but most people probably don't want to get all the catalogs they get," said Kate Sinding, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups that created Catalog Choice.
In addition to their regular customers, retailers also send catalogs to people who have never ordered from them, in hopes of boosting Christmas sales.
"This time of year, I fear my mailbox," said Kerry Brock, 50, a painter and interior designer in Weston, Conn., who has used the Catalog Choice Web site to request that she be taken off the mailing lists of 55 merchants.
The Direct Marketing Association, the industry trade group, runs a service that, for $1, will put a person's name on a do-not-mail list for three years. That prevents companies from adding that person's name to their lists, but it does not stop catalogs and other mail solicitations a person is already receiving.
That service, which is several decades old, has more than 4.5 million subscribers.
In less than a month and with little fanfare, more than 90,000 people have registered for Catalog Choice and logged more than 550,000 opt-out requests.
The service started with a list of about 600 catalog retailers, but visitors to the site have used the "suggest a retailer" feature to raise that to more than 1,000 retailers, said executive director Chuck Teller, who runs Catalog Choice out of an office in Berkeley, Calif.
"The effort necessary for any individual consumer to get off these lists is significant compared to everything else we have to do in our lives," said Teller, referring to the fact that until recently the only way to get off a catalog mailing list was to contact the merchant directly. "We think we introduce some efficiency into the process."
In addition to the defense council, the groups involved in starting the service are the National Wildlife Federation and the Ecology Center, which runs Berkeley's curbside recycling program. Funding for the service comes from three foundations.
From the sponsoring groups' perspective, the idea behind Catalog Choice is to reduce the environmental impact caused by the mass mailing of catalogs.
Every year, American households receive 19 billion catalogs of all shapes and sizes. The environmental groups estimate it takes 53 million trees to produce the 3.6 million tons of paper in those catalogs. Add the energy required to make the paper and ship the catalogs, and the environmental groups say the process adds 5.2 million tons of carbon-dioxide emissions to the atmosphere yearly, equal to the emissions of 2 million cars.
The Direct Marketing Association's Steve Berry said 1.7 million trees are planted daily in the United States to replace trees that are cut down for paper and wood products, and pointed out that catalog shopping can have positive environmental impacts.
Berry, who noted that the defense council and wildlife federation make extensive use of mass mailings to raise money, said Americans could save 3.3 billion miles of driving if everyone eliminated two trips to a mall a year and shopped by catalog instead. That would prevent 3 billion pounds of carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere and save 290 million gallons of gasoline.
Catalog Choice's Teller said all the merchants contacted have agreed to honor the requests. To demonstrate that Catalog Choice has nothing against free enterprise, the Web site includes links to all the merchants, giving users the chance to shop online after asking that their names be taken off a company's mailing list.
"It's not like I don't want to do business with you," Teller said. "I just don't want to get your catalog."
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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