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Thursday
Jul192007

New American Dream's dream

All of us at New American Dream eagerly await the launch of CatalogChoice.org, a site that will be a wonderful complement to all the tools for reducing junk mail currently posted on the Center For New American Dream site.

Currently, there are resources that folks can use to tell ad mailers to stop selling their names or to tell legislators to give citizens more control over their mailboxes, but there isn't a tool to let folks say "this annoying catalog comes five times a month, make it stop!" or "I kinda like this catalog and want to keep receiving it." Once CatalogChoice.org launches, citizens will have that very tool.

CatalogChoice.org will improve Americans' quality of life but it will also help the planet. In 2005, 5.8 million tons of catalogs and other direct mailings ended up in the U.S. municipal solid waste stream - enough to fill over 450,000 garbage trucks. Parked bumper to bumper these garbage trucks would extend from Atlanta to Albuquerque. Less than 36% of this ad mail was recycled.

And to make matters worse, citizens and local governments spend hundreds of millions of dollars per year to collect and dispose of all the bulk mail that doesn't get recycled. Fortunately, thanks to CatalogChoice.org, Americans will have more power to decide what mail they want to receive - and we'll all reap the benefits of that.
Tuesday
Jun262007

Welcome to Catalog Choice

The mail arrives through the slot in my front door, and I can tell by the sound it makes hitting the floor that I’ve once again received a pile of catalogs. Every day, mailboxes throughout America are flooded with catalogs.

Those catalogs help sell products that we can readily buy online or on the phone, but they also clog mailboxes and municipal waste systems, devour natural resources, and produce pollution. How many catalogs are mailed?  About 20 billion catalogs (around 60 for every man, woman and child in the United States) and their numbers are growing. It’s not unusual for businesses to mail multiple catalogs in one month, and some mail more than a million catalogs a day. The role of the catalog is clear – the merchants want to let us know the products that they have for sale and they want to make it easy for us to make an order. But do they have to send so many, so often?

Each year, catalog production uses about 3.6 million tons of paper, which consumes up to 15 million trees. Energy used to produce and dispose of all that paper is estimated at 119 trillion BTUs, and CO2 emissions are estimated at 11 million tons per year. Then there’s the wastewater -- discharges are estimated at 56 billion gallons, the equivalent of 574,000 households’ annual discharge. The total solid waste is estimated at 4.1 million tons; the equivalent to the annual waste generated by almost 2 million households. A small reduction in the number of catalogs printed and mailed would be a huge break for the planet. Just a 10% reduction in the amount of paper used by the catalog industry would save up to two million trees.

OK, time to confess. I do actually buy things from a few catalogs. And I’d actually like to keep getting certain catalogs a few times a year. I like the convenience of shopping from home. But getting the same catalogs week after week is too much. So, yes I recycle them. In fact they go from the mailbox to the recycle bin without much more than a glance at the cover. I would rather reduce the number that I get in the mail.

And, yes I have tried to get off the mailing list of some merchants. Talk about a run around. I have yet to find a simple link on a merchant’s website that makes it easy to opt-out of their catalog. It takes a call to customer service to get off the list and the obligatory 5-10 minutes of listening to that dreadful music while I am on hold. There has to be a better way.

Starting several months ago, a team of non-profit organizations (NRDC, NWF, ForestEthics, Ecology Center and Center for New American Dream) came together to tackle this dilemma. Each organization brings expertise and experience to tackle this basic problem of unchecked catalog mailings. As the curbside recycling operator within the group, the Ecology Center has taken on the responsibility to develop the free service for consumers to identify the catalogs they no longer want mailed to their homes. We figure if we can reduce the number of catalogs mailed, there is that much less mixed paper to pick up throughout the city. Internally, we have assembled a team of Enterprise and Consumer software experts to design, build and operate the Catalog Choice service.

We have not attempted to build and deliver this service in a vacuum. We are working with the catalog industry to develop an efficient and secure process to remove your name from merchants' mailing lists if you no longer want a catalog mailed to your home. We are working with an excellent web design and development team to make the process as easy as can be. At www.catalogchoice.org, you’ll be able to make your catalog choices with a few clicks of your mouse. No calling customer service, no waiting on hold.  You indicate your choices and we take care of the rest.

This is not about stopping you from shopping. In fact, you’ll be able to get to many of the merchants’ websites through the Catalog Choice website. If you choose to “go paperless”, we’ll have your name removed from the paper catalog mailing list and provide you with a link to the merchant’s website from your Catalog Choice account page. Catalog Choice will be a good thing for the environment, the catalog industry, and consumers.

Stay tuned for more news about the Catalog Choice launch.
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