Impact of Catalogs on the Environment

I shuffle through my mail as I walk towards the house. None of it is really personal – a flyer addressed to Resident, an invitation for a credit card from an airline where I accumulate miles, a letter from AARP announcing a ‘great deal’ from their auto insurance affiliate, and a couple of catalogs.

I set the envelopes on the table. Later I will have to open them and shred a portion of the contents to prevent identity theft. It is always such a tedious chore – especially since it is unsolicited information.

The red cover of the Coldwater Creek catalog with the photo of spring poppies lures me and I start flipping through the pages. The spring outfits call out to my winter-weary emotions and my eyes linger on a navy and white pantsuit.

And then I get mad. While my navy pants and jacket may not be the latest style, the reality is I don’t need this outfit. And what is this catalog doing in my mailbox? I opted out of this and many other catalogs last November. I suspect the company did not immediately respond to my request, hoping I would not be able to show restraint when faced with their dazzling array of merchandise.

I have to admit it is fun to ‘window shop’ with catalogs. And, my browsing has led to impulse purchases. However, it is sobering to realize the impact of catalogs on the environment.

According to a fact sheet prepared by the Environmental Defense Fund, the catalog industry used 3.6 million tons of paper in 2001, which accounted for 12% of all printing and writing paper consumed in the United States.

Ten percent or less of the paper used to print most catalogs comes from post-consumer recycled content. For instance, the paper used in the approximately 395 million catalogs mailed each year by Victoria’s Secret, contains only 10% post-consumer content. Post consumer materials are those that end up in your recycle bin, rather than the landfill.

The impact of using post-consumer recycled paper is spelled out by Ms. Magazine in their Environment Benefits Statement. Ms. Magazine, which publishes four issues a year using New Leaf Paper that is 85% de-inked recycled fiber, 20% post-consumer waste, and elemental chlorine free, reports saving the following resources annually: 211 fully grown trees, 71,468 gallons of water, 48,568 pounds greenhouse gases, 254 BTU’s energy, 25,091 pounds of solid waste and 65 pounds air emissions.

It is mind-boggling to consider the amount of resources consumed by each catalog which arrives in my mail box every three to four weeks. According to information provided by the Boreal Songbird Initiative, the average U.S. household receives 59 catalogs per year.

There is an alternative. Catalog Choice is a free service that provides consumers an opportunity to reduce the amount of unsolicited catalog mail and to promote the adoption of sustainable industry best practices. Sponsored by the Ecology Center, Catalog Choice is endorsed by the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Defense Council, and funded by the Overbrook Foundation, the Merck Family Fund, and the Kendeda Fund. According to their home page, 657,987 persons already have opted out of 8,589,019 catalogs.

Does it matter? It would be easy to say that my opting out of 22 catalogs makes a real difference. However, corporations will only change, if we as the consumer demand the change. Each act of consumer responsibility sends a message to the corporate community that people care about the environment.


2 thoughts on “Impact of Catalogs on the Environment

  1. I get no catalogs but I know that is very unusual. I’ve worked hard to stay off any company’s mailing list. When I make a contribution to any organization I include a note telling them not to trade or sell my name to any other organization. I don’t get much jumk mail so I feel I have cut out some paper waste.

  2. Thank you for this! I have a family member who keeps signing me up for catalogs that she thinks I will like, despite my requests for her to stop. I sent her this post and I hope it will do the trick. Great information & resources. Thanks again!

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