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Feature photo by Oran Viriyincy. Photo above by Claire L. Evans

Ever wonder how many trees are cut down just so you can get more junk mail in your mailbox?

The average person in the US receives nearly 11 pieces of junk mail each week, or 560 pieces a year. This amounts to 4.5 million tons of junk mail yearly, of which 44% goes straight to the landfill unopened and unread.

Here are some more facts:

100 million trees are cut down each year to produce junk mail.

1 million trees offset 48,000,000 pounds of carbon emissions.

Eliminating junk mail in the US would offset 480,000 cars.

Conclusions

These numbers only reflect the amount of carbon emissions offset by the raw materials alone. They do not take into account all of the carbon emissions created in transporting the trees from the forest to the pulp mills, much less the emissions generated in manufacturing the paper. Nor do they take into account the carbon emissions created in distributing the junk mail via mail-trucks, planes, and cars nationwide.

It’s safe to say that were we to include those factors in our equation, the actual emissions created through junk mail would easily be in the millions of cars, perhaps in the tens of millions. Anyone want to work on that formula?

How to Stop Receiving Junk Mail

For a quick and easy guide to stop receiving junk mail, please visit the Native Forest Network.

About The Author

Alan Velasco

Alan is originally from Los Angeles, CA, but now resides in Florida. Most of his travels have been throughout the Americas and the Caribbean. Full bio pic click here.

  • http://ExileLifestyle.com Colin Wright

    Very well (and concisely) said. This is something that I feel very strongly about, and a big part of why I seldom take on print design projects these days.

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  • nonameidea

    BOOOOO! Poor science. Your little story here does not take into account the amount of carbon that is captured by trees and stored as wood. Using more wood with a proper reforestation program is by far the most effective means of CO2 capture. If you wish to protest junk mail you should protest the horrible amounts of chemicals needed to process the paper.

    • http://thetravelersnotebook.com david miller

      actually the second graphic addresses exactly what you’re talking about–the amount of carbon that is normally sequestered via intact forests. That was the whole point of the article–that if junk mail weren’t produced, these trees wouldn’t have to be cut down, and the savings on carbon emissions (as well as carbon offsetting) would be tremendous.

      • KingKaid

        The question is then… would all of these trees be planted each year if they were not cut down? If yes, then you have a point. If no… well then… let’s stimulate the economy ;)

      • oracle

        False conclusions are often the result of static analysis… the trees used for pulp are planted just for that industry, it is a renewable raw material that actually absorbs CO2 for all the years it grows before harvest. Those trees harvested are immediately replaced, it’s called a business model. The CO2 you worry about is almost nothing compared to the greenhouse gas that is most abundant and is the greatest contributor to the greenhouse effect– H2O.

        You are young, it’s OK, don’t stop learning and caring about the truth.

        • Alan

          The little baby trees that they plant to replace the trees they cut down (if they even replace them at all) don’t absorb anywhere near the CO2 of a fully mature tree. Just like a child doesn’t need the same amount of calories as an adult.

          Also, you’ve completely ignored the fact that all of this junkmail has to be flown and driven to its final destination. Creating even more pollution.

          • oracle

            Yes, they do replant, otherwise they’d have run out of resources a long time ago– they can’t just buy more natural forest every year. It is far more efficient to manage the forest land they own or lease… they also manage the wildlife, and that’s a bonus.

            About driving and pollution… in the end, your argument leaves us with only one moral choice, and that is the end of all activity that creates waste product of some kind. Human beings, all animals, exhale CO2 with every breath, we must stop that. If you find that lame, as I do, you are faced with the task of picking a finite spot on the scale between all and nothing to define as THE exceptable amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere by man. Since the inert world expells far more CO2, and other pollutants, at a far greater rate and in far more varying amounts with no regulation, our attempt will never be correct. Back to nothing as the only answer for those who accept that man can regulate global warming. Me? I believe we couldn’t warm or cool the world if we tried since the great furnace in the sky has a mind of its own.

  • http://www.matadorabroad.com Tim Patterson

    I like the diagrams – clear and simple.

  • Alan

    Thanks for the comment Tim.

    Also, good decision on your part, Colin.

  • joshywashington

    Damn it I have thought this for years, I’m pissed. That dirty business of essentially sending me garbage, that should be illegal! They is no reason why we cant have coupons and stuff like that on the little digital terminals or web based.

    • http://www.themommytree.com Meena

      My local grocery store offers the service of auto adding coupons to my club card to reduce paper waste!
      I’m a member of a website called http://www.greenwala.com, a green social network, where for every new member who joins they are planting a tree. This is the link to the story about the company planting each tree. http://tinyurl.com/qa74yx
      Great article and I have stopped most of my junk mail but the local flyers keep on coming. How do I stop that? Love that you added the action link at the bottom!

  • http://thelonglayover.blogspot.com Carlo

    But how would I know that the Thai restaurant is offering 10% off this month? Or that Aldi has a folding table on sale next week? Also, where would I turn to if I wanted my carpets steam cleaned??!

    Besides that, I’d miss the personal touches, you know, “To the occupant” and such.

    But seriously forks…I’ve often wondered this and how it’s even allowed. This practice should be made illegal.

    Let’s take it a step further…following on http://matadorchange.com/is-your-computer-killing-the-planet/ – what about SPAM/junk email? (or is that too far).

  • http://www.garagesalestracker.com Garage Sales

    I agree the junk mail we receive is just that junk and it’s polluting and hurting our environment. I wouldn’t be suprised to see intervention in the amount of junk mail allowed to be sent out by a company per year.

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  • http://wayworded.blogspot.com/ Hal

    These types of comparisons always blow my mind–the graphics especially.

    And to think, I had a job for a day and a half delivering this crap to people’s houses. Just more carbon on my hands…

  • jared

    Just to let you all know that the United States Postal Service is one of the Greenest companies in the nation. pretty close to all of the junk mail is hand sorted and recycled. I want to know where you got the 44% is sent to landfills.

  • http://www.abetterenergyplan.com boyyye

    thanks for the article a much needed eye opener on the subject. we should be pressuring politicians in our ridings to get some junk mail legislation.

  • Alan

    RE: Oracle.

    Had to reply here since I can’t continue with the same thread.

    You still neglect the fact that the baby trees they plant don’t suck up as much CO2 as fully mature trees.

    As for your little “well, lets not breath” argument, that’s nonsense. Everyone knows that we as humans have to release CO2 to breathe, and release it quite a bit throughout our daily lives. The point of the article is that if we did something as cutting out junk mail (something no one enjoys, except the post office who makes money delivering it), then we can make a difference. A small step in the right direction.

    As for the rest of the natural world, you’re right. Volcanoes and plenty of other of the Earth’s processes are expelling CO2, but the Earth is equipped to handle the load. We’re throwing in a couple of tons on top of that. So it’s ridiculous to think that we’re not having an impact.

    • oracle

      It may seem intuitive that young trees absorb less CO2 than old trees, but the opposite may very well be the truth, since they are growing at a far faster rate and in different ways than mature trees… do the research before you just accept things people tell you.

      You say earth is equipped to handle the load (of CO2 from non-human sources). How do you know this? How do you know what the tipping point is, or if there is one? How do you know that a relative thimbleful added to the mix will ruin the balance? How do you know that CO2 precedes a rise in global temperature? Have you seen the relationship between the sun’s activity and the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere? Gore’s famous “hockey stick” just happens to FOLLOW the sun’s increased output… this would lead the curious to conclude that CO2 rises when the atmosphere is heated, the sea is heated and gives up some of the dissolved CO2 (the largest CO2 sink in the world)… which makes perfect sense. How do you know that water vapor isn’t causing far more warming (or cooling) than CO2 could ever cause?

      To answer your other point, yes, not driving one truck will decrease the waste product of that truck. Ending one human life will decrease that persons overall waste byproduct. You have to ask yourself, what is the difference, why is it silly to do one and not the other, unless we all know that the one truck will make an appreciable change in the course of global climate.

      I’m not interested in telling you what to think, I appreciate an honest search for truth joined with moral conviction. I only ask people to be objective, skeptical and prudent. Science is great, but it is useless unless it can withstand scrutiny and repeated challenges. I hear one side of this issue often stated as “conventional wisdom,” but rarely hear any challenge met with real intellectual honesty and civility, and that tells me something. Ask yourself this, why, if Gore believes the sea level will rise many feet in a short period of years, did he purchase an expensive property right on San Francisco harbor? I mean, smart money would be buying future beach property 100 miles inland.

      • Alan

        Go here: http://www.bbg.org/vis2/2007/bigtrees/info/what.html for proof that a large mature tree absorbs far more than a sapling (70 times more).

        Also, it’s well known that the temperatures started increasing at an accelerated rate once the industrial revolution began. It’s been stated over and over on any program on the subject that can be viewed on the Science Channel or the Discovery Channel.

        Again, it would be nice for you not to come up with some wild response. The life of one person is not equal to that of one car. That’s why it’s OK to try and get that car off the road and not OK to end someone’s life. Just like no one has stated that human beings shouldn’t breathe.

        As for Gore, how would I know? He has enough cash to have as many homes as he wants. Maybe he felt like he should have a home in the bay area and enjoy while it’s still there?

  • wkcraven

    ForestEthics’ research on this issue, endorse by NASA climatologist Dr. James Hansen, is a little different than the above stats, and actually finds that the carbon emissions of junk mail’s logging, production, printing, and distribution equals the emissions of more than 9 million cars.

    Sign their petition calling for a national Do Not Mail Registry at donotmail.org

    Here’s their climate report, with a full appendix on how they calculated the stats: http://donotmail.org/article.php?id=119

    Here’s their basic factsheet on junk mail, fully cited: http://donotmail.org/article.php?list=type&type=3

  • http://thelonglayover.blogspot.com Carlo

    This is an awesome discussion…and it’s great to see that it’s remained respectful. What I don’t understand is, even if you’re on the fence about global warming, if you don’t totally believe that humans have an impact on it, but think, well, maybe we do…wouldn’t you rather err on the side of caution? Especially considering that there is so much we can do that will not alter our life satisfaction.

    Specifically speaking about junk mail – who wants this stuff? There may be a tiny minority that actually enjoys it (I will admit, my wife is addicted to flyers)…but the vast majority (anectodely speaking) finds it a nuisance.

    Just based on this, it should be banned. It’s unwanted, clear and simple. And at the very least it creates a mess, rain makes it soggy, wind blows it around the streets, it’s an eyesore. The amount of energy and resources that go into producing, transporting, and dealing with it after is huge – and all considering that no one wants it! It’s crazy.

  • scott tuttle

    well,
    The funny thing is that i get more e-mails at work from our “green team” than I do spam. It’s so typical that the bleeding heart liberals whom think they can save the world end up killing it.Electric cars(heavy metal based batteries) ,Nucular power; they say NO WAY, Wind power; the Kennedy’s say not in my martha’s vinyard and of course the colorado river baisin has too many tamarisk trees so they introduced bugs they can’t get rid of.
    Look the world is complicated let’s not let our emotional goodie goodies rule with thier hearts instead the rational mind. It is not my fault the will to survive has been bred out of democrats. the rest of the world is moving forward with power and liberals are generating tons of Co2 to spread the word of enviromental awareness.

  • Charlie Gross

    We have little impact on the climate. CO2 is essential to life on earth. Trees store CO2. Trees also either rot and die or die and rot. Guess what happens to the CO2 they have stored. Trees are a renewable resource, a crop if you will. Note this: there is more wood fiber in North America now than there was a year ago. Existing trees grow. The seedlings that are planted today will be large trees in 20 – 30 years. We have plenty of trees and lots of people who do not want a small minority determining whether they should be allowed to solicit or be solicited by mail. We are losing our freedoms at an alarming rate so let’s not add to the list.

    If you do not want to receive mail that is fine. To use the power of the government to outlaw advertising mail restricts my freedom (and also yours).

    For those who are so much against direct mail to save trees or whatever do a little homework on forest management.

  • http://www.motionphr.com Jeff

    I wish we could stop it but the Post office doesn’t want it to stop and they have helped to kill legislation. Write your congressman.

  • Cliff Claven

    I work for the Post Office. Banning admail takes money out of my pocket from delivering it, the printshops who print the flyers, the advertising agencies who come up with the marketing campaigns, and the businesses themselves who need to advertise in order to get customers to use their product. You treehuggers who are so quick to talk about the ‘carbon footprint’ of admail see no hyprocrisy in typing on your computers all day long. What powers your computer? Oh yeah, ELECTRICITY. From coal fired generators and nuclear power plants. And then in two years when your computer is obsolete, you buy another one while your old one goes in the landfill so that it can leach toxic materials like mercury into the water table. But admail from recycled paper is the world’s greatest concern…

    • Julie Schwietert

      Actually- it was just stuck in moderation. And if you’ll scroll back through our article archives, we recently did write an article about all of us “treehuggers” who use computers all day long. We were pretty critical about it, too. We tend to be more interested in constructive conversation, though, not finger-pointing or name-calling.

  • Cliff Claven

    Way to purge my comment supporting the Post Office. So I guess you only print opinions that agree with the true ‘junk mail’ aka the ‘junk science’ of people like Al Gore and the Global Warming nutjobs.

    • Julie Schwietert

      Cliff- We never actually saw your comment supporting the post office, though if it’s on topic and you’d like to resend it, we’d be happy to approve it.

  • http://blog.colthart.com Bruce Colthart (@bccreative)

    According to the EPA, in a 2007 report, direct “junk” mail makes up 2.1 percent of municipal solid waste. Newspapers and magazines make up 2.3 percent. Food scraps makes up the largest percent at 18.2 percent. “I demand that my apples and oranges come pre-peeled!” Or… “There should be a law against people who don’t finish their dinner.”

    Don’t like what you’re getting in the mail? Opt out at dmachoice.org

    I don’t trust an annoyed mob to make laws about what I should and shouldn’t receive in the mail.

  • http://thelonglayover.blogspot.com Carlo

    At least the food scraps are biodegradable. And the actual amount of junk mail is still only half the problem (or less) – not to mention that 2.1% of a lot is still a lot. But it’s also the energy required to produce and transport it too that’s a big problem.

    I think it should be the other way around, you should have to opt IN to get junk mail. It’s like reverse charges for cable television (or any other service) – we’ll charge you for services you didn’t ask for unless you tell us specifically you don’t want them. Would you be happy with that?

  • http://blog.colthart.com Bruce Colthart (@bccreative)

    Most landfills are designed to prevent biodegrading (and toxic runoff), being completely lined in heavy plastic. Some forward-thinking ones are being tapped for methane. Paper is an organic product. Sure, inks contain chemicals (as do too many foods, sadly) but the printing industry, like many others, is evolving, lessening their environmental impact. I guess 2.1 lbs/tons out of 100 is worse than a utopian zero lbs/tons, but far better than 97.9 out of 100.

    Lots of stuff – annoying stuff too – requires energy and requires a place for waste. Obese people and empty city buses and servers running 24/7 arguably consume more resources and generate more waste, yet we don’t take legal action. To outlaw everything that’s annoying or requires energy would make the world a rather unrecognizable place.

    I get mail I don’t want, but how would I know what to opt into? How would I know what’s available to me? I don’t want to get mail from crackpot politicians either, but should they be banned from a free speech venue – mail – subsidized in part by taxpayers? if I’m a local business, should I be banned from sharing information and offers? As a local business person, I’d have to weigh the alienation of the annoyed against the value of new prospects who say ‘huh… I’m gonna try these guys.” As a consumer (and we all consume) the unwanted mail I get is the small price I pay for the [possibly] interesting stuff.

    Maybe if I had to lug recyclable paper down several flights to the street I might feel different, however :]

    • http://thelonglayover.blogspot.com Carlo

      I see what you’re getting at, but I think we have to pick and choose our battles. In my opinion, this is useless stuff except for maybe (MAYBE) 1-2% of it where you might actually see something you want/need. What’s the cost/benefit?

      I think it’s high time to move away from paper junk mail. There are many more and different ways for businesses to promote themselves these days: Facebook, Twitter, etc…social networking. Paper junk mail is a dinosaur (and an eyesore!).

  • http://www.alexandersongs.com Lee Alexander

    We should urge congress to pass legislation requiring them to use 90% post consumer recycled materials. It would increase the operating costs, but at least that would be a step into making these companies more responsible.

  • http://www.flippapps.com Flipp Media

    NatGeo has some great stuff related to carbon foorprints

  • http://www.junkcarsforcash.org junk cars for cash

    Great!
    Thank for information, I’m looking for it for a long time,

  • http://andycox1953.webs.com/ Andy

    If you want more examples pf needless waste, check this out:
    http://andycox1953.webs.com/database1.htm

  • Rachel Reese

    Junk mail is so annoying, but I had no idea just how destructive it was to the environment! I can’t believe 100 MILLION trees are cut down every year to produce junk mail- what a waste! It’s incredible to think how much of a difference it would make if everyone took 10 minutes to follow these instructions to stop receiving junk mail- and I’ll be glad to stop wasting 5 minutes of my day every day going through it!

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