by Will Craven
Can I play devil’s advocate a bit?
Unjunkmail.com has quickly set up shop and established itself as a center for conversation about junk mail’s annoyance and environmental impacts. That’s awesome.
It’s cool to see the national junk mail conversation expanding, and Unjunkmail’s recent blog posts—on junk mail’s impacts on climate, Canada’s Boreal forests, and Southern US forests—all provide firm evidence that junk mail is not only annoying but pretty freakin’ serious.
But is the direct mail industry taking it seriously?
US junk mail requires the logging of 100 million trees each year. Junk mailers endlessly repeat that paper is recyclable, but hardly any of them use any recycled content. Deforestation accounts for 20% of global carbon emissions—more than all the world’s trains, planes, and automobiles combined. If we want to address deforestation, junk mail is an easy place to start.
With these facts in mind, only a few questions need to be answered:
1. Was the passage of the 2003 Do Not Call Registry, giving Americans the choice to stop getting annoying telemarketing calls, a good thing?
2. Knowing that junk mail combines nuisance with large and unnecessary environmental impacts, isn’t the argument for Do Not Mail arguably stronger than the argument for Do Not Call?
3. Would Do Not Call be as effective if the industry had been allowed to run it themselves? Are industry-run opt-out tools an acceptable substitute for consumer choice that’s enforced by law?
I imagine most Americans’ answers to those questions are Yes, Yes, and Probably Not:
Over 180 million phone numbers have been put on the Do Not Call Registry, and according to a 2007 Zogby poll, 89% of Americans support the creation of a Do Not Mail Registry.
The Direct Marketing industry’s answers are almost certainly No, No, and Please God Yes. If accurate, those answers don’t take junk mail’s environmental impacts—or consumer choice—seriously enough.
Unjunkmail endorses some helpful but not necessarily enforceable opt-out tools. They haven’t endorsed a Do Not Mail Registry, even though direct mailers should welcome the opportunity to find out exactly which Americans are willing to receive junk mail, and which aren’t. Americans deserve a Do Not Mail Registry, just as they deserved Do Not Call—something enforceable, something that actually satisfies consumers, and something that meets full scope of the challenge before it.
It could be so easy. It could sharply reduce unnecessary logging at a time when we must sharply reduce unnecessary logging. The world may face some tough decisions in the near future. This isn’t one of them.
William Craven is the media officer for ForestEthics. Their Do Not Mail Campaign has collected the signatures of over 100,000 Americans calling for a national Do Not Mail Registry.