The Pro-Junk Mail Lobby: Fighting to Sustain the Unsustainable?

Junk MailJunk mail kills trees, clogs mailboxes, packs landfills, wastes natural resources, and everyone would be glad to be rid of it. Right?

Well, maybe not.

Whether out of environmental concern or sheer annoyance, legislated efforts to reduce junk mail are on the rise, but companies that have vested interests in its continuance have started organizing to save it--in a big way. Of course, they don't call it junk mail. Their preferred euphemisms are "advertising mail," "direct mail" or even "standard mail."

Industry Ramps Up Efforts to Preserve Junk Mail

A little-noticed, April 2008 press release from an organization called the National Association of Printing Leadership (NAPL) announced that it had awarded its 2008 "Technical Leadership Award" to Benjamin Y. Cooper for his work as "a dedicated champion and eloquent spokesman for the print media." Sounds innocent enough, but who exactly is Cooper, and what did he do to merit this award?

Cooper is a principal in the Washington, D.C.-based lobbying firm Williams & Jensen, who for almost three decades has been the chief lobbyist for the U.S. printing industry. He also heads Mail Moves America (MMA), a pro-junk mail front group that works to prevent the passage of "Do Not Mail" laws that would give consumers a way to opt out of receiving junk mail, similar to the way "Do Not Call" lists have helped people end unwanted telemarketing calls. Formed in 2007, MMA is the creation of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), a trade association for companies and industries that profit from the creation and sending of junk mail, like printers, advertisers, paper manufacturers and paper catalogue retailers.

On its web site, MMA says "Do Not Mail" laws would be "bad public policy." It dismisses the accusation that junk mail destroys trees as "a myth," saying simply, "Direct mail is not trees, it is printed communication." In a July 10, 2007 press release, DMA President & CEO John A. Greco, Jr. called state bills to set up "Do Not Mail" lists "misguided legislation" that is "being driven by environmental, privacy, and consumer groups who often distort the facts in their efforts to eliminate advertising mail to consumers." Greco said MMA responds aggressively to Do Not Mail list initiatives with "convincing information about the consumer benefits of advertising mail."

U.S. Postal Service: Using Third Party Technique to Preserve Junk Mail?

The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is another player with a vested interest in the junk mail issue. It derives a substantial portion of its revenues from bulk mailers, so giving people the ability to opt out from receiving junk mail would threaten its budget. The Postal Service is prohibited from lobbying Congress on its own behalf, so it cannot directly oppose “Do Not Mail” legislation. According to the Washington Post, however, the USPS is "working closely with the Direct Marketing Association ... in its new campaign -- Mail Moves America -- which is designed to quash the Do Not Mail initiatives." Thus, even our trusted post office is not beyond using the third party technique to achieve a business goal.

A related pro junk-mail effort is a new web site called IP Moves the Mail, started by the International Paper Company. International Paper is a multinational corporation with offices around the world, and as a paper manufacturer, it stands to lose business if laws are enacted that reduce the quantity of paper being dropped into mailboxes. "IP Moves the Mail" therefore facilitates pro-junk mail activism, urging visitors to contact their legislators and oppose passage of "Do Not Mail" bills.

Most people don't like the mounting number of unsolicited ads that arrive in their mail and would be happy to have a way to be rid of them. In a world of diminishing resources, junk mail consumes tremendous amounts of dwindling resources, most of which ends up as trash. At a time when people are increasingly using electronic communication, is it right or sensible to give credence to a fight to preserve what might be an anachronistic industry whose time might be naturally winding down anyway? Would it be so bad to create a way for only those consumers who want paper junk mail to be the ones to receive it? Despite the junk mail industry's "sky-is-falling" attitude, legislation allowing consumers to block unwanted mail probably wouldn't end the world. "Do Not Mail" bills, in addition to saving increasingly precious natural resources, just might give people some peace until advertisers start finding more ingenious and less harmful ways to put their ads under our noses.


Sorry, Mr. Broder, you are ill-informed about how harmful junk mail can be. Junk mail is used to manipulate seniors, many of them have Alzheimer's and go through tens of thousands of dollars, giving money to "charities" & politicians which DMA does not restrict. Junk mail is not just a haven for scam artists, it is also a form of harassment, just like cyber bullying. Much of it is based on fear & paranoia (& we know Alzheimer's patients suffer from these) & much of it is hate mail, targeting religious minorities, gays, immigrants, etc. It is also mislabelled "official" when it isn't. This, I think, could be considered FRAUD. We should be given an "opt out" to stop these so-called charities & crooked politicians from bilking seniors. Instead, this stuff is forced on us & families have to find out & deal with it, often after seniors have already bankrupted themselves & their families.

what precious natural resources are you refering? Trees live and die. Trees are farmed like a crop. Trees are also cut down for lumber with the byproducts also being used to make paper or "engineered wood". Ad mail DOES NOT consume tremendous amounts of dwindling resources. In consumes one renewable resource - trees. In people don't want ad mail then they should be the ones to do the work to stop it. The senders of the mail are the ones bearing the costs to send them the ads. The recipients just spend their time going through the mail. Quit arguing nonsense and start using common sense. I like ad mail much better than e-mail ads or ads blurring the webpages. When I am on the internet, I don't want to be bothered with ads or popups. Those are far more annoying that ad mail.

<blockquote>what precious natural resources are you refering? Trees live and die. Trees are farmed like a crop.</blockquote> At least you and I can agree that junk mail is, in fact, trees. As Ms. Landman notes, the DMA claims that "Direct mail is not trees, it is printed communication." (Right. And these are the people we're supposed to trust with our personal information?) A few points about trees: 1) Most junk mail does not come from sustainable tree farms. According to ForestEthics, much of it comes from endangered forests like Canada's Boreal Forest and rainforests in Indonesia. 2) We are not regrowing as many trees as we are killing. 3) Even if we plant one tree for each one that's destroyed, we're still not accounting for the HUGE amount of carbon that's released when forests are cut down. 4) Tree farms are qualitatively inferior to old-growth forests. (For more detail, see my post above to Mr. Broder.) Also, contrary to what you seem to believe, trees are not the only environmental issue at hand. An estimated 28 billion gallons of water a year are wasted on producing junk mail. And what about our landfill space? Is that not a limited resource? Only 1/3 of junk mail is recycled, which means that millions of tons end up in our landfills every year. In addition, there are the environmental costs associated with production, transportation, and elimination of junk mail. What about those? Remember, too, that there are other considerations besides environmental ones. Tax dollars spent on waste removal. Increased risk of identity theft and scams. Mistaking important correspondence for junk mail, and vice versa. The psychological distress caused by folks receiving junk mail for deceased friends and relatives. Countless hours of productivity imperceptibly stolen from hundreds of millions of people. (It's like a leaky faucet. Doesn't seem like much, but it adds up quickly.) Finally, and most importantly (in my opinion), there's the issue of my right to be left alone. Take a look at Rowan v. Post Office, where the Supreme Court ruled that folks have the right to choose what does and does not enter our mailboxes. If you set aside all the concerns I mentioned above, the issue of privacy alone is enough to justify anti-junk mail legislation. Rezzie Dannt [ Junk Mail Revolt] (Launches May 12, 2008)

I have observed that DMA's do-not-mail list is poorly promoted and difficult for consumers to find and access, particularly for people without an Internet connection. A government-sponsored "Do Not Mail" list could receive greater promotion resulting in greater awareness and use. I would also argue that globally, the amount of tree farming now occurring has not made up for the amount of deforestation that has already occurred, and is ongoing. As for the statement that mail in general has benefits, well of course that is the case. You are construing annoyance with junk mail as annoyance at mail in general. While junk mail probably constitutes the greater part of the mail in general these day (thus making mail in general fairly annoying), people still do need and like postal mail for real needs, like delivery of items (purchased on EBay!;)), staying in contact with family and friends, paying bills, etc. But finally, having choice is part of the freedom this country stands for (or at least that it used to stand for). For an industry to work to <em>block</em> people from having more choices about how to regulate their mail is onerous, to say the least. We can buy spam blockers to keep our electronic in-boxes from getting cluttered with unwanted ads. Why shouldn't we be able to choose to block unwanted mail from our snail-mailboxes? By the way, I asked my own mail man (who shall remain anonymous) about his feelings about junk mail in general. He told me he takes all the postage-paid cards he gets in the junk mail that he receives personally, and just mails them back to the senders blank, to cost companies money and keep himself in a job. In a time of increasing energy prices, rising costs of transportation, printing, paper, etc., this just all seems to be an endless and ridiculously embarrassing waste. I would like to think we can do better. Anne Landman

Ms. Landman -- I guess we have a different interpretation of the word "choice." I argue that consumers already have choice -- the DMA website is one place to exercise mail preferences, but there are others if you don't find that one to your liking, including companies that will get you off mailing lists for a fee. On the forest question, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations noted, in its 2007 State of the World's Forests report ( that the world lost a total of 3% of its forest cover from 1990-2005, or an average of 0.2% per year. If you read the report, you will see that deforestation is a complex issue with many, many causes, and it is hard to draw a link between direct mail in the United States and this global phenomenon. The same UN report notes, by the way, that forest coverage in the US and Canada is stable. Does the mailing industry have environmental issues? Absolutely -- just like all other industries. We can and must do all we can to reduce our environmental footprint, and responsible companies across the sector are already engaged in that process for sound business reasons. Matt Broder Vice President, External Communications Pitney Bowes Inc.

<blockquote>I argue that consumers already have choice -- the DMA website is one place to exercise mail preferences</blockquote> Mr. Broder, It's time we stop pretending that the DMA's mail preference service is a comprehensive cure-all for unwanted junk mail. There are millions of junk mailers in the United States, and only about 3,600 of them have access to the DMA's registry. That means a large number of junk mailers must be contacted individually, which is a time-consuming, costly, and often frustrating task. Junk mailers often ignore or refuse repeated requests for removal from their mailing lists, even when consumers take drastic measures like filing Prohibitory Orders with the Postal Service. When junk mailers do comply, it often takes months to be removed from their lists. See the story above about the guy who spent two years trying to eliminate junk mail. In short, the DMA registry is grossly inadequate. It does nothing to stop local junk mail. It does nothing to stop rogue mailers and scammers who prey on the elderly and the mentally ill. It does nothing to stem the flood of junk mail that inundates small business owners, who the DMA prohibits from ever signing up. It offers no legal recourse for the consumer. And although the registry is about 40 years old, polls show that nearly 90% of us are still unhappy with the amount of junk mail we receive. The DMA registry's primary function, I believe, is to foster the illusion of self-regulation in order to thwart legislation. Furthermore, let me ask you this. If consumers already have a multitude of options, then why is the junk mail industry so desperate to prevent us from having one more to choose from? If what you say is true, that consumers already have sufficient choice, then a new registry would only be one more option among many, and few of us would want to sign up. In reality, the junk mail industry knows that consumers don't have adequate choice, which is why it feels so threatened by the prospect of government intervention. The fury with which your industry fights against legislation demonstrates the degree to which it doesn't believe its own talking points. Which brings me to my next point. Why should consumers trust the DMA, whose track record is abysmal at best? These are the same people who fought alongside telemarketers to prevent the Do Not Call registry. These are the same people who fought to perpetuate spam. These are the same people who right now are actively fighting legislation that would offer consumers control over their mailboxes. These are the same people who promote junk mail with the kind of sleazy spin that's better suited for a sweepstakes offer. With all due respect, sir, allowing the DMA to regulate junk mail is like letting the fox guard the proverbial hen house. The DMA is not the solution to junk mail, it's the problem. <blockquote>On the forest question, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations noted, in its 2007 State of the World's Forests report ( that the world lost a total of 3% of its forest cover from 1990-2005, or an average of 0.2% per year... The same UN report notes, by the way, that forest coverage in the US and Canada is stable.</blockquote> On the issue of forests, you neglect to mention a few vitally important facts: 1. Three percent deforestation in 15 years is not as insignificant as your industry would like to make it sound. That seemingly small percentage represents tens of millions of acres of forest destroyed every year. According to some estimates, "That destruction amounts to 50 million acres - or an area the size of England, Wales and Scotland felled annually... [O]ne days' deforestation is equivalent to the carbon footprint of eight million people flying to New York." [ (1)] 2. A deforestation rate of 0.2% a year might not sound like much, but in reality that's an alarming figure. In just 150 years, a 0.2% annual deforestation rate obliterates a whopping 30% of the earth's forest cover. (0.2% x 150 = 30%) According to the World Resources Institute, 80 percent of the earth's post-glacial forest cover has already been destroyed or seriously degraded. [ (2)] National Geographic refers to the current rate of deforestation as a "Forest Holocaust." [ (3)] 3. According to some organizations, like the World Resources Institute, deforestation rates may actually be higher than the FAO numbers you cite. Furthermore, it appears they may be accelerating.[ (4)] 4. If you count "forest degradation" along with "forest deforestation" (as you should), then the 3% figure you cite more than doubles. It's important to realize that the FAO defines the term "deforestation" in a highly specific and idiosyncratic manner. For example, if a forest's tree density falls below 10%, then the FAO calls that deforestation and includes it in their statistics. However, if a forest's density falls to, let's say 11 or 12%, then the FAO does NOT count that as deforestation. Instead, they call it "forest degradation." When you cite deforestation statistics and ignore degradation, you're essentially committing a fallacy of omission. 5. You state that "forest coverage in the US and Canada is stable." However, you neglect to mention that it's only stable in terms of deforestation. It's far from stable in terms of forest degradation. Furthermore, you neglect to mention that our junk mail industry isn't just destroying trees here in North America, but in places around the world where deforestation rates are anything but stable (e.g. endangered Indonesian rainforests). 6. You overlook the issue of quality versus quantity. Chopping down an old-growth forest and replacing it with a newfangled tree plantation diminishes it qualitatively if not quantitatively. In other words, "The state of the world's forests is not simply a matter of their extent... [but also] the health, genetic diversity, and age profile of forests, collectively known as forest quality. Measures of total forest area do not reveal the degraded nature of much regrowth forest. For example... logging often... degrade[s] forest quality, inducing soil and nutrient losses and reducing the forest's value as habitat." [ (5)] 7. The paper industry's notion of sustainability does not account for the fact that killing trees carries a double jeopardy. It's not just the absence of trees that's harmful, but the physical act of killing them, which releases huge amounts of stored carbon into the atmosphere. In other words, we're penalized for the end result of deforestation, as well as for the process of deforestation itself. Even if you plant a new tree for every one that's destroyed, you're still only accounting for half the equation. Rezzie Dannt [ Junk Mail Revolt] (Launches May 12, 2008)

Anne, if you received a 30% off coupon for your favorite restaurant or a letter offering a free stay at a fancy new hotel, would you throw that stuff away? Some solicitors are a bit behind the times, admittedly, but there are many mailers that understand the financial crisis the USA faces. Those companies are indeed cutting back on mail campaigns and are learning to actually offer something to their "target" audiences, whose pockets may be a bit more... well... roomy these days. The DMA UK's "Participation Media 2007" report (sponsored by Experian)revealed in their study that "responses to direct mail were almost twice as positive in reality than first perceived." 1,700 people in the UK were interviewed for this study. Okay, so that's the UK. Still, do you think you may be leaning a bit too heavily on your own perceptions of direct mail? Do the majority of people here in the USA necessarily care? Who knows. We just think there are potentially better things to legislate. A government-sponsored "Do Not Mail" list = taxes. Lastly, the DMA's Mail Preference Service ( shows up as #3 in a google search for "do not mail." Seems pretty easy to find actually. Mike & Nathan Junk Mail Galaxy

<blockquote>Do the majority of people here in the USA necessarily care? Who knows.</i> Your fellow flack "openminded" claims to know. S/he stated with godlike omniscience and no reference: "In fact 74% of Americans prefer their advertisements through the mail than any other medium." Junk mail with cents-off coupons for junk food? No, thank you. Is that fancy hotel offering the "free" stay near anyplace I'd want to go? How much would it cost me to get there? Taxes to run a government no-junkmail registry? I can think of far worse ways a lot more of my tax dollars are being spent right now.

<blockquote>Junk mail has benefits too! Really. No, we're serious.</blockquote> Yes, but do the benefits outweigh the costs? That's the question. For the overwhelming majority of us, the answer is a resounding "NO." <blockquote>if you received a 30% off coupon for your favorite restaurant or a letter offering a free stay at a fancy new hotel, would you throw that stuff away?</blockquote> If I received a 30% off coupon to my favorite restaurant, I might use it. However, that doesn't mean my preference is to receive coupons in the mail. Junk mailers often use the twisted logic that because people sometimes respond to a junk mail offer (e.g. use a coupon), that means they like receiving junk mail. That's simply not true. If a homeless man asks me for money, I might give him some. That doesn't mean I like being approached by panhandlers. The problem is that folks like me receive hundreds of pieces of junk mail that we're NOT interested in for every one piece that we are interested in. If I received a 30% off coupon to my favorite restaurant, I might use it. But it hardly compensates for the hundreds and hundreds of offers that were of no interest whatsoever. <blockquote>Do the majority of people here in the USA necessarily care? Who knows.</blockquote> The majority of people don't like junk mail. I know it and I'm pretty sure you know it, too. That's why junk mailers are fighting so hard to squash the legislation that's sprouting up all over the country. If they didn't think the masses would swarm to use a Do Not Mail registry, junk mailers wouldn't be so against it, would they? By the way, the polls confirm what most of us already know - junk mail is hugely unpopular. According to a 2007 Zogby poll, 89% of us dislike junk mail and would actively use an option such as a Do Not Mail registry. <blockquote>A government-sponsored "Do Not Mail" list = taxes.</blockquote> That's patently false. As with the Do Not Call registry, any legislation would be fully funded by marketers who purchase the list. If anything, a Do Not Mail registry should lower taxes because we'll be paying less in waste removal and recycling costs. (Not to mention all the other hidden expenses the junk mail industry dumps on the public.) Rezzie Dannt [ Junk Mail Revolt] (Launches May 12, 2008)