Rob Knight

Opting Out of Paper

May 11, 2008

Update: This is a very helpful reference, provided by the City of Santa Cruz. (via @jingleyfish on Twitter)

This afternoon, as I did the customary, bi-monthly task of sorting through the giant pile of mail that resides on a table near our front door, I decided enough was enough. I'm done with paper-wasting. Done with the environmental consequences of having useless information -- information I have not solicited -- delivered to me at the expense of living organisms. Done with the volume of paper that I neither read nor feel the need to pass on to others going straight into the recycle bin without so much as a second glance.

So, I hit up my friend, The Internet, for some ideas on how to reduce my paper mail footprint. The Internet, as always, came through. Here are a few ideas for reducing your paper mail (and thus your carbon) footprint.

Direct Marketing

The Direct Marketing Association has a website, where you can opt-out of their mailing lists. Since their mailing lists account for most unsolicited catalogs and other mailed advertisements, this action alone can reduce your volume of unsolicited mail significantly. The process is pretty simple: you create an account and opt-out. Done. You can change your preferences at any time, so if you ever want to go back to proxy-slaughtering trees, you can ;-).

One aspect of this process I found amusing was the DMA's reasoning that you should not opt-out of their mailings because you'll be harming the environment. On the confirmation page, they warn that, if you don't receive paper catalog mailers, you'll just get in your car and drive to the mall. As opposed to not receiving a paper catalog, not getting in my car, and just shopping online and getting better prices? You lost me.

If you're hooked on some of the catalogs you get already but want to opt-out of the mailings you haven't asked for, you can try Catalog Choice gives you more granular control over what you get and don't get, allowing you to unsubscribe to individual catalogs.

Credit Card Offers

In my search to remove myself from the paper nightmare of direct marketing, I discovered that you can also opt-out of pre-screened credit card offers. AWESOME! is a website setup by the Consumer Credit Reporting Industry to allow you to remove yourself from pre-screened credit card offers. Again, the process is simple although it requires more sensitive information: your Social Security number and a valid credit card. This is information they already have and they use it to verify your identity. I wasn't quite comfortable giving that information out, so I did some poking around and found an article from AARP Magazine recommending I thought that was a trustworthy endorsement, so I signed up. You can opt-out of pre-screened credit card offers for 5-years or for life. In order to opt-out for life, you have to sign a form and mail it in. I will sacrifice a little paper now to save reams of paper later.

I'm hoping that these two actions alone will reduce my paper mail footprint by more than 90%. In addition, I have all of my bills sent to me via email now and only receive paper bills from a couple of companies. Please pass on any other ideas to reduce your paper mail footprint. I'd love to hear more.