If it seems like your mailbox is stuffed with more shiny credit card offers and catalogs than ever before, you’re right. The U.S. Postal Service says the volume of advertising mail outpaced first class mail for the first time last year. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams reports… city waste managers and environmental groups are concerned that all that mail is going to add up to a lot more waste:
If it seems like your mailbox is stuffed with more shiny credit card offers
and catalogs than ever before, you’re right. The U.S. Postal Service says
the volume of advertising mail outpaced first class mail for the first time
last year. The GLRC’s Rebecca Williams reports… city waste managers and
environmental groups are concerned that all that mail is going to add up to
a lot more waste:
(Sound of squeaky mailbox opening)
Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like no one sends me letters anymore.
Which means my mailbox is all coupons and catalogs and pizza ads. That’s
not all bad, but honestly, most of it goes right to the shredder.
(Sound of shredder)
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, that’s a pretty common
reaction. The EPA points to one study showing that 44 percent of advertising mail
is thrown away without being opened or read.
And there’s a lot coming in. Last year, marketers and non-profit groups sent
about 101 billion pieces of mail. That’s billion with a “B.”
You might call this junk mail, but people in the business have a more
affectionate name for it: direct mail.
Pat Kachura is with the Direct Marketing Association. She says direct mail
yields a very high return on investment.
“Marketers yield about a 7 dollar return on investment for every dollar
spent on catalog marketing, and about 15, almost 16 dollars return for every
dollar spent on non-catalog direct mail marketing.”
The Association’s annual report says those hefty returns are based on an
average of just 2.7 percent of people responding to the ads they get in the
mail. Last year, that meant more than 600 billion dollars in sales.
So, it’s profitable for marketers to fill up your mailbox.
But critics say there are hidden costs that marketers aren’t paying. Some
of those costs also arrive in your mailbox in the form of a bill from your
city for solid waste disposal or recycling.
(Sound of paper pouring into bunker from conveyor belt)
If your city accepts mixed paper for recycling, your junk mail comes to a
facility like this one where it’s sorted and packaged into giant bales
weighing one ton each.
Bryan Weinert is the solid waste coordinator for the city of Ann Arbor,
“We end up getting about $70 a ton back in the value of the junk mail that’s
recycled. But remember it’s costing the city roughly $125 a ton or so to
pick it up.”
Weinert says his city is lucky because it has double the nation’s average
recycling rate. He says communities that don’t have a recycling program
bear even higher costs to dispose of mixed paper.
In this case, the bales of paper get made into Kellogg’s cereal boxes.
Tom Watson is with the National Waste Prevention Coalition. He says it’s
good when there’s a local market for recycled junk mail, but much of it
actually gets sent overseas.
“The unwanted mail, the mixed paper, generally has a very low value, that is often
shipped to China and it comes back to us in the kind of mottled packaging found on
the products that we buy from China. So, it comes full circle but it’s not
very efficient, all the costs of the transportation and recycling.”
Watson says it’d be much more efficient to cut back on all that mail in the
The Direct Marketing Association does offer an opt-out service. The group
says their members aren’t allowed to send any new mailings to people who
sign up. The fastest way to sign up is online, but you have to pay a $5
Tom Watson with the National Waste Prevention Coalition says that charge
might put people off. He says he’d like to see a national Do Not Mail list.
One that isn’t controlled by the industry.
“It’s very common in other countries, you can’t send mail to someone unless
they say in advance, yes I want to receive that mail from you.”
You might expect that the folks at the Direct Marketing Association aren’t
fans of the Do Not Mail list idea, but they’re not the only ones.
“What is our position on that? (laughs) I wouldn’t like that to occur.”
George Hurst is the brand manager of direct mail for the Postal Service.
It’s his job to get direct mailers to send more mail. That’s because it’s
the second largest source of revenue for the Postal Service, in the tens of
billions of dollars.
Hurst says new laws aren’t needed. Instead, he says marketers just need to
know their audiences.
“The ones that don’t do it too well, and just blanket the earth with a message,
God bless ’em, we love the postage. But you gotta know that if you’re
talking to someone who is say, 100 miles away, about coming to your
dry cleaners, you’re probably missing the mark.”
But critics say consumers deserve to have more say over the mail they bring
into their homes. They say marketers make so much money from the mail they
send… that for that small chance you might be interested in a coupon book or
sale notice, you shouldn’t have to pay the cost to throw it away or recycle
For the GLRC, I’m Rebecca Williams.