Do you still get tons of unwanted junk mail in your mailbox every day? I know I do. I recently spoke with Junk Mail expert and environmental activist Linda Wells of Forest Ethics to find out  how to deal with this annoying, destructive, and wasteful marketing tactic, and why it still happens.

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Discerning Brute: Getting junk mail is so annoying. How can I stop it? Linda Wells: Right now there’s no silver bullet to stopping junk mail. There are a few groups out there, like Catalog Choice and Green Dimes, who exist to help people get off junk mail lists.  The problem is that corporate junk mailers get to choose whether to listen to the requests of consumers to be removed from their lists.  That’s why ForestEthics is working to establish a national, enforceable Do Not Mail registry – a one-stop shop to get rid of junk mail.

DB: How did you get started at Forest Ethics? LW: I started volunteering with ForestEthics in college (2001) – working on a campaign to get Staples to stop sourcing from Endangered Forests and to sell more recycled paper.  We won that campaign a year after I started working on it – and I quickly came to appreciate the huge impact we can make through markets strategies. So, I’ve been with the organization awhile, and I’ve been on staff about 3 years.

Linda Wells, Forest Ethics

DB: How long have you been vegan and why did you choose this lifestyle? LW: I’ve been vegan for seven years.  Originally I did it for environmental reasons - I grew up in Iowa, where the lakes and rivers are so polluted from factory farm runoff that you can’t even swim in them.   But when you’re working to expose the evils of factory farms, it doesn’t take long to become an animal rights advocate as well.  So now I’m a vegan for the environment and for animal liberation.

DB: Why should I care about stopping Junk Mail when I can just throw it away? LW: Junk mail is annoying, excessively wasteful, and has a huge impact on the environment.  ForestEthics just released a report on the climate impacts of junk mail (you can read it at www.donotmail.org <http://www.donotmail.org> ), and we found that junk mail alone produces greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to more than 9 million cars, or more than the combined emissions of 7 US states. So, in those states, every single emission – from cars, from refrigerators, from industrial manufacturing – doesn’t add up to the greenhouse gas emission produced nationally from junk mail.  On top of that, junk mail is coming from places like the Boreal Forest – where endangered caribou habitat is being devastated to produce junk.  So obviously junk mail is not just a pet peeve – it’s an issue we all need to address as part of our battle to protect the climate and our last remaining endangered forests.

DB: Are there regulations for companies making catalogs and junk mail? LW: Right now there are no regulations as to how much junk mail companies can send out – in fact, the more they send, the lower their postal rates. The system as it stands encourages limitless sending of junk mail.

Forest Ethics' Sears Campaign

DB: Who is the biggest offender right now and what has their response been to ForestEthics campaigning? LW: Sears is the worst.  Sears founded junk mail with their Sears Roebuck catalog, and currently they are sending out over 425 million catalogs a year.  These catalogs contain almost no recycled content and are being sourced from endangered caribou habitat in the Boreal Forest. ForestEthics has been publicly campaign against Sears for a year – demanding that the company clean up its sourcing, use more recycled content, and send less catalogs.  So far Sears has admitted the problem, but has yet to adopt a responsible paper policy.

DB: If destroying the forests isn't making us happy, why are we doing it? LW: Corporations are doing it – and it’s making them a profit. That’s why markets strategies like the Sears campaign are designed to make forest destruction unprofitable. In response to these campaigns, almost every major catalog company has taken steps in the last two years to clean up their catalogs.  (For more info, go to www.catalogcutdown.org)

DB: How will I ever order my Victoria's Secret Lingerie if I don't get a new catalog from them every 4 days? LW: I’m pretty sure they have a website.

Linda Wells of Forest Ethics

DB: What is the psychology behind junk mailing? LW: It’s a marketing formula – companies expect a 1-3% return rate. For example, for 100 every credit card offers Capital One sends out, they expect one person to sign up for a credit card.  Therefore, the more junk mail they send, the more customers they will gain.  It’s a very simplistic and probably outdated strategy, but it’s the rule these companies have been playing by for a long time.

DB: Anything else we should should know? LW: Yeah.  You can sign the Do Not Mail petition at www.donotmail.org - and send it to everyone you know.  89% of people in the U.S. support creating this registry, but we’re going up against a huge junk mail industry, so we need to get the word out.