by Whit Gibbons

December 16, 2007

Are you one of those people who dislikes having a mailbox full of unwanted catalogs? If so, read the response to a query I received last week for a solution to this vexing problem.

Q: I recently read something about how a person can deal with unwanted catalogs that arrive in the mail. I'll bet information on how to do this would be as popular as the Do Not Call list, particularly at this time of year. Actively helping the environment while putting a stop to an annoying home intrusion sounds like a good idea. Do you know anything about such a program?

A: Go to the Catalog Choice website at www.catalogchoice.org and you will have your answer. "Catalog Choice is a free service that allows you to decide what gets in your mailbox. Use it to reduce your mailbox clutter, while helping save natural resources."

The project is sponsored by Ecology Center, an organization that has been actively involved in promoting environmentally sound projects for decades. Both the National Wildlife Federation and Natural Resources Defense Council have endorsed the effort. With Catalog Choice "consumers can indicate which catalogs they no longer wish to receive, and businesses [will be sent] a list of consumers no longer wanting to receive their catalogs." The service is entirely free and it's easy to use.

You don't have to be an ardent environmentalist to find this program appealing. If you get catalogs that aren't even fun for window-shopping or if you're tired of receiving the very same catalog two, three, even four times, then log onto Catalog Choice today. If you are interested in helping the environment, you will enjoy reducing the burgeoning quantity of slick paper that arrives at the front door and leaves unopened on its way to the garbage can or recycling bin. And surely even the least environmentally conscious person won't object to curtailing the "19 billion catalogs [that] are mailed to American consumers" each year.

According to the website, 53 million trees are cut down to produce the 3.6 million tons of paper used to print those catalogs. Regardless of whether you think Al Gore should have won a Nobel Prize for mentioning global warming a time or two, you might find the following statistics disquieting. The Catalog Choice calculates that the production and disposal of a year's worth of catalogs results in 5.2 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions. That, in case you're wondering, is roughly equal to the emissions produced by 2 million cars.

Standard questions to ask when trying to decide whether to support a particular environmental cause are Who benefits? Who loses? and What does the organization promoting the program gain? As best I can tell, most individuals and society in general would benefit from the reduced production and dispersal of catalogs. Eliminating the personal nuisance factor, combined with the overall environmental benefits, is clearly positive. People who might suffer from the program are those who earn a living harvesting trees to make paper and those who design, produce, and deliver catalogs. Pretty clearly, more people would benefit from the Catalog Choice program than would be hurt by it. With regard to the organizations supporting the program, apparently they gain nothing but the satisfaction of protecting the environment.

And what of the businesses that use catalogs to advertise? They too could benefit from Catalog Choice by eliminating the cost of producing and distributing catalogs that people are not reading anyway. They could spend money designing and maintaining more effective websites. An added benefit for potential customers is that a website doesn't enter your home uninvited.

To try out the service, I went to the recycling bin, picked out a catalog, and followed the step-by-step instructions on the website. In less time than it would take to toss out unwanted catalogs for a week, I had "successfully declined" a particular one. They have a strict privacy policy regarding personal information, which was minimal anyway.

One last seasonal comment. You might want to use the site's "Invite a Friend" feature. Information about catalogchoice.org might be the best gift your friend gets this year.

If you have an environmental question or comment, email

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