Junk mail is the bane of my existance -- it's annoying, and bad for so many reasons.

The environmental impact of junk mail is substantial. In 1991, 62 million trees were cut for junk mail. Over 74,000 acres of trees were cut just for catalogs. In 1989, 63.7 billion pieces were sent, including 55 billion catalogs. This represents 7.4 billion pounds of junk mail. Pulp processing to produce paper for junk mail requires 25 billion gallons of water.(1)

Individually, an average of 41 pounds are sent to every adult. About 44 percent goes unread directly into the garbage(2) and 93 percent of junk mail will be discarded ultimately. Americans spend over $275 million to dispose of junk mail.(1) In one year a New York University marketing professor received 601 catalogs, including 26 catalogs from American Express and 24 catalogs from L.L. Bean.(3) ...

The USPS also sell names, although few citizens know it, through the National Change Of Address (NCOA) program. Twice per month the USPS sells the name and address of anyone who has moved and filled out a yellow USPS change-of-address form (USPS Form #3575) to about two dozen of the largest mailing list companies. Almost 40 million Americans fill out the change of address cards each year.(4) The House Government Information, Justice, and Agriculture Subcommittee held hearings on the NCOA program, and found that these two dozen USPS licensees sell the names to "thousands of direct mail companies."(4)

Unfortunately, my friend Mike Northover (who sent me the link) agrees with me that there is unlikely to be a market solution to the problem. Even if the USPS were privatized (which would be great), they'd make a lot of money selling addresses and delivering junk mail. If anyone has a market-based solution to the problem that wouldn't vastly increase the cost of mail, I'd love to hear it.



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