One Thing You Can Do: Reduce Unwanted Mail

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Last year the United States Postal Service delivered more than 77 billion pieces of marketing mail, and I think a lot of it went to me.

When I sort my mail, the vast majority is unwanted — usually enough fliers, credit card offers and unsolicited promotions to fill my recycling bin. All that mail has a significant effect on our climate, including the loss of trees and the energy used for producing and transporting huge quantities of paper.

That’s why some environmental groups have pushed for a national Do Not Mail List, similar to the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call Registry, and the Sierra Club recently called for a ban on unsolicited mail. But environmentalists say industry pushback against legislation has been fierce. “There’s huge economic interest involved,” said Joshua Martin, the director of the Environmental Paper Network. “Politically it’s a really tough one to go at.”

The Postal Service, for example, makes billions of dollars each year from marketing mail. According to the Association of National Advertisers, Americans received nearly 10 billion catalogs in 2017.

John Wolfe, a spokesman for the association, wrote in an email that direct mail supported thousands of jobs and had proved effective as a marketing channel. Plus, he added, “we have many members that use properly sourced paper and pay attention to environmental stewardship.”

Mr. Martin disputed the claim that marketing mail is effective. He called it “a low-value and high-volume use of paper.”

With a national registry appearing unlikely anytime soon, can you put a stop to unwanted mail? Probably not. But there are steps you can take to reduce the volume.

CatalogChoice.org is free and lets you set preferences one catalog at a time. The Association of National Advertisers runs DMAChoice.org, which lets you remove your name from a broader categories and lists, though there’s a $2 fee.

There’s also OptOutPrescreen.com, which is recommended by the Federal Trade Commission and run by the major credit bureaus. It lets you stop preapproved credit or insurance offers for up to five years.

And don’t forget to sign up for electronic delivery for of bank, credit card and other account statements. Just be sure you don’t need a physical copy of those documents.

Another big source of unwanted paper can be phone books. Millions of Americans still receive the Yellow Pages. Yellowpagesoptout.com should get you off the phone book list for at least a few years.

With broader initiatives on marketing mail stalled, Mr. Martin said that taking personal action was all the more important. “It’s a small act that makes a difference,” he said. If a grass-roots movement to limit mailings gains steam, he said “it’d really be significant for reducing the demand for wood, water and energy.”


The pace of natural disasters slowed in the first half of this year, but the ones that hit highlighted persistent weaknesses in the world’s defenses against catastrophes — weaknesses that will only become more dangerous as climate change gets worse.

According to new data issued Tuesday by Munich Re, the reinsurance giant, there were 370 natural catastrophes worldwide in the first six months of 2019. That tally, which includes cyclones, flash floods, heat waves and other disasters, was down from 460 during the same period last year, and slightly less than the average of 400 over the past decade.

Total losses came to $42 billion. That’s no small amount, but it is less than the $62 billion recorded in the first half of 2018, and about half the average for the same period during the past 10 years.

But there’s no reason to expect the decline in losses to last, according to the company, which says that the trend for disasters has been moving clearly in one direction: Up.

“A year is always a data point, which can be slightly lower or higher,” said Raghuveer Vinukollu, who heads the natural catastrophe solutions team at Munich Reinsurance America. “But the overall trend is definitely saying higher.”

The world’s costliest disasters were once again in the United States. That’s a reminder, according to Mr. Vinukollu, of the vulnerabilities of the country’s building codes and infrastructure.

He said the United States needed to be more aggressive in both areas. “There is definitely a shortage of investment,” Mr. Vinukollu said.

The world’s most expensive catastrophe so far this year was the series of tornadoes and severe storms across the central United States in the second half of May, producing $3.3 billion in damages. That was followed by $3 billion for the storms and floods that hit the Midwest in March.

The United States had the world’s most expensive disasters in 2018, with the Camp Fire, Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Florence.

But if the United States is ill-prepared for the effects of disasters, the latest data shows that the situation in poorer countries is many times worse.

The deadliest event so far this year was Cyclone Idai, which hit Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe in March, killing more than 1,000 people. The next deadliest were a heat wave in India in May and June, which killed an estimated 210 people, and flash flooding in Indonesia that killed 200. (By contrast, the two worst disasters in the United States so far this year killed 15 people.)

The toll from those disasters has been economic as well as human. The damage from Cyclone Idai equaled about one-tenth of Mozambique’s annual economic output, according to Munich Re, which said that almost none of those losses were insured.

“Disasters in poorer countries are worrying because the victims so often have virtually no insurance,” Torsten Jeworrek, a member of Munich Re’s board of management, said in a statement. “Such countries often take years to recover.”


Hello and welcome back!

One sharp-eyed reader pointed out that we got something wrong last week in our item on carbon offsets: The Gold Standard is not an auditor. The organization sets out requirements for environmental projects, but it does not verify them. The verification is done by third-party auditors. The Gold Standard does have a database of verified projects.

It wasn’t the only thing we got wrong in the carbon offsets item. There was a typo in the writer’s name. She is Jillian Mock. Not Jiliian.

Your editors are sorry, Jillian.

Have a great week.