How Junk Mail Impacts the Environment

Opening our mailboxes to find them stuffed full of unwanted mail items is inconvenient and annoying, for sure. Implicitly, we understand that junk mail is also terrible for the environment.

But hey, at least we’re doing our part by recycling, right?

Yeah, about that …

It turns out that as of 2018, more and more of our collected recyclables are not being recycled at all. This is mainly due to the recent embargo on all imported waste (i.e. plastic containers, bottles and unsorted paper – mostly junk mail) by China, the final destination for 1/3 of all US recyclables.

With the main buyer of waste walking away from a $5 billion industry, and no other buyers capable of stepping in to take care of the supply of recyclables, they are simply piling up. Or ending up in … you guessed it, our US landfills.

Even prior to the new Chinese restrictions, known as the China Sword law, it appeared a good amount of recyclable materials were simply being lumped in with the trash.

Recycling in the Windy City

Take, for instance, the direct experience of PaperKarma employees in Chicago, one of the largest population centers in our country. Here’s how recycling appears to “work” in the Windy City:

1) Recyclables must be separated into separately purchased blue plastic bags, before being placed in the same garbage bin as the regular trash.

2) It is unclear where to buy blue bags in the first place. (Answer: Ace, Menard’s or other hardware store is a good bet).

3) Blue recycling bags are then thrown in the SAME garbage truck with the rest of your trash.

4) Supposedly, the blue recycling bags are manually picked and separated by humans after being dumped at the landfill (and after getting compressed and compacted with the rest of the trash in the garbage truck?!)

We’re not buying it.

Anecdotes and personal observations aside, there is a huge, documented environmental toll to consider when it comes to those ridiculous Valpak and RedPlum money mailers, or our own personal nemesis – Restoration Hardware’s 3,300-page, 17 lb. catalog.

According to the annual Statistical Fact Book of the Data & Marketing Association (formerly known as the Direct Marketing Association), direct mail marketing in the US is a $10 billion industry that results in an astounding 85+ billion pieces of junk mail per year. We have posted before on how almost half of all junk mail ends up UNOPENED in landfills.

In 2013, the US produced approximately 20,700,000 tons of paper. This level of production uses up to 110 million trees in a single year for paper alone.

With circa 117 million households in the US, simple math yields that 12% of these trees – 13 million trees(!) – are destroyed to make way for insurance offers, pizza coupons and Halloween decoration catalogs that are NOT worth the paper they are printed on.

What a colossal waste – not only due to how many trees are cut down to produce junk mail, but also due to a lot of other resources like water and oil that are used in the production process.

Overall, an estimated seven million hectares of ancient forests are logged (cut down, stripped, and used for timber or pulp), cleared (often to plant a more desired tree, which will be cut down and used in the future – ruining natural ecosystems) or severely diminished.

We must also consider the consequences to the bountiful life found in our forests (which is in many cases, found only there). The unnecessary production of junk mail contributes to a large amount of this devastation to forests and animal populations.

Blocks of Recyclable Paper

So what does this mean for us?

It’s easy to see how problems like identity theft and clutter affect each of us directly, but we are also directly affected by global forest loss and the believed impact it has on climate change.

Global deforestation is responsible for almost 20% of all carbon emissions, which are believed to be a leading contributor to global warming. As climate change continues, NASA posits that we will experience hotter temperatures, rising sea level, warmer oceans, shrinking sea ice, glaciers, and ice sheets, acidification of our oceans, extreme weather events, and declining snowfall.

That is a frightening list, and that’s just at a brief glance. In future blog articles, you will find more detailed discussions of these consequences of climate change and how reducing junk mail has a positive effect on climate change and slowing deforestation.

Here at PaperKarma, it is our goal to contribute to the global effort to reduce forest loss. We also aim to declutter and simplify your life at the same time.

By using PaperKarma to get rid of your junk mail, you not only remove a chore from your daily life but you also contribute to the global effort to reduce forest loss, mitigate climate change, and shrink our landfills here at home.


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