Looking for Junk? Check the Mail

By FRANK CARINI

In the span of a year, the mail slot that greets our friendly postal workers was violated by 49.6 pounds of junk mail. Most of it was never opened — although I admit I flipped through a few Victoria Secret catalogues — and none of it proved useful.

In fact, the 10 pieces of mail we received from the Chris Blazejewski campaign nearly persuaded me not to vote for the fellow Providence resident for state representative in District 2. In all, my wife and I received 43 pieces of campaign junk mail this election season.

The amount of waste that fills mailboxes annually is disturbing. Each year, 41 pounds of unwanted paper is sent to every American adult, and about 45 percent of that goes unread and directly into our overflowing waste stream. However, opposition from the U.S. Postal Service and the Direct Marketing Association has helped defeat passage of any “Do Not Mail” legislation in many states.

So even as paper waste comprises 40 percent of ever-shrinking U.S. landfill space, we continue to drown in a tidal wave of shoppers, coupon packets — many wrapped in plastic — catalogues, menus and promotional materials. It takes 100 million trees and 28 million gallons of water to produce 4 million tons of junk mail.

Stopping this tsunami of waste is nearly impossible.

My wife has spent considerable time on the phone and visiting Web sites in hopes of slowing the flow of junk mail into our home. Her efforts have barely made a dent. It’s easier to get an 18-ton tractor-trailer across the Pawtucket River Bridge without getting a $3,000 ticket than it is to stop unwanted stuff from being delivered to your home.

Some companies charge a fee to stop crap you didn’t ask for from being delivered to where you live, because politely asking a company to stop mailing, say, Pottery Barn Kids catalogues to a couple with no children, doesn’t work.

Every junk-mail sending company tells you the same thing when you request to be taken off its mailing list: “Your request will take three to four weeks to process.” Two months later, you make the same call or send the same letter. A year later, you are still receiving catalogues from CB2 — a company you have never heard of, visited or bought from.

Even the U.S. Postal Service was nice enough to send us some junk mail, which was addressed to the person we bought the house from four years ago.

My wife received six post cards from a Rhode Island-based physical therapist telling her, “Don’t let pain and discomfort ruin your life.” I’m likely her only source of the two.

Propaganda from Cox, Verizon and DirecTV waged a continuous war on our mail slot, and a national lawn-service company offered us a free lawn analysis, despite the fact our home, until very recently, was surrounded by asphalt.

And judging from the junk mail addressed to me, I’m apparently not aging well. A Massachusetts-based hearing center offered me a hearing aid — in its defense, I do wear glasses. At the age of 42, I’m also a valued member of AARP and will receive a free gift when I renew my membership. I was invited to a free workshop for retirees in Cranston — my employer doesn’t know I’m retired — and I was sent a notice encouraging me to make my Medicare coverage selections.

But at least those you think I’m aging poorly or believe my wife is in chronic pain didn’t besiege our home with an incessant wave of headache-inducing promotional materials for supermarkets, department stores and chain restaurants.

Nearly half of the unwanted mail we received between Nov. 1 of last year and this year was courtesy of Valassi — better known by its consumer brand RedPlum. On its Web site, the company says it “touches 9 out of 10 U.S. households in the mail — a 150 million address database.” It also brags about its environmental stewardship, complete with a photo of a person sitting at the base of a redwood.

I requested our address be removed from the company’s mailing list. It will take five to six weeks. I don’t know how we ended up on the list, but I bet it didn’t take nearly two months before we received our first packet of crap.

Frank Carini is the editor of ecoRI News.