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List would slow flood of junk mail

Five years after Congress approved the popular Do Not Call List to limit unwanted telephone calls, environmental groups and activists are calling for a national Do Not Mail List to slow the flood of junk mail.

The group ForestEthics said Americans receive about 105 billion pieces of junk mail every year -- 392 pieces each year for each person in the country.

The group, based in Bellingham, Wash., said junk mail also contributes to identity theft and takes time to sort, shred and toss or recycle.

But the group also claims junk mail is more than an inconvenience for consumers -- it's a huge waste of natural resources. ForestEthics says it takes paper from almost 100 million trees each year to print the nation's junk mail and that unsustainable logging for that paper is deforesting parts of Indonesia and Canada that are important carbon sinks to slow global warming.

Because trees store carbon, trees lost to logging for paper are lost as carbon storage sinks, although new trees that sprout or are planted would help make that up.

ForestEthics claims the manufacturing process to make 6.5 million tons of paper is equal to the carbon emissions of 3.7 million cars.

"One third of all the mail delivered in the world is U.S. junk mail,'' said Todd Paglia, executive director of ForestEthics. "And the environmental costs associated with this are tremendous.''

Direct mail marketing officials counter that consumers already have the choice to opt out of direct mail by brand or by so-called prospect lists for most companies. Consumers can go to a Web site,, and select catalogs they don't want to receive. About 80 percent of direct marketers are members of the Direct Marketing Association.

Association spokeswoman Sue Geramian said consumers recycle about one-third of all junk mail and that direct marketing companies are continually supporting recycling efforts.

Industry officials say direct marketing is a huge economic engine for the nation and spurs as many as 9 million jobs nationally and that a Do Not Mail List would cut revenue by $50 billion in the first year alone.

A Do Not Mail List also would have a major effect on the U.S. Postal Service, which critics say could be bankrupted if the plan was approved. The agency has geared much of its service toward the junk mail industry, Paglia said.

ForestEthics said exceptions should be made for political campaigns and non-profit groups to allow unsolicited mailings but that catalogs, credit applications and other mail would be stopped unless consumers ask for it.

In a September 2007 Zogby International poll, 93 percent of respondents were aware of the Do Not Call registry, and 89 percent of them supported a Do Not Mail List to make it easier to opt out of unsolicited ad mail.

The Duluth News Tribune and the Republican Eagle are Forum Communications Co. newspapers.