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Getting Rid of Junk Mail

Much depends on where you live, but the tide is definitely turning against the free stuff that comes through your letterbox that you don't want and didn't ask for. And it's definitely a quick win for saving forests, water and for curbing plastic waste.

Many European countries, as well as Canada and Australia, have opt-out systems: A sticker on your mailbox signals to postal carriers that they are not allowed to deliver bulk mail.

It’s a good start, but fewer than 27 percent of Germans use the opt-out sticker, even though, when asked, 83 percent of Germans say they don’t want to receive junk.

To rectify this, Amsterdam has pioneered an opt-in system, and several other Dutch cities followed suit. Instead of opting out of each individual mailer as you have to in the US, the Netherlands reversed the system. In order to receive junk mail, you need to put a “Ja-Ja” sticker on your mailbox that declares that you want it.

Only 23 percent of Dutch households opt in. (Those who do often say they value the coupons and special offers they find in the flyers.) Anyone who does not opt in and still receives unwanted mail can call the city, and the sender will be fined 500 euros (about US$560). As a result, Amsterdam is saving a whopping 6,000 tons of paper and 700 trash runs per year.

This impact makes you wonder how much could be saved in a huge country like the US where consumers receive more than 100 billion pieces of junk mail every year, requiring 2.6 million trees. Almost every country on Earth has included tree planting as part of their solution to the climate crisis. If the planet got rid of unsolicited junk mail - especially those also wrapped in plastic - tens of thousands of acres of forest could be preserved, rather than replanted.

Amsterdam’s results are so impressive that other cities and countries plan to follow suit. France has already drafted legislation and Germany is in the process of introducing the Dutch opt-in model.

If any more evidence were needed, the nonprofit Environmental Action Germany calculated that 535,000 tons of CO2, 42 billion liters of water, 4.3 billion kilowatt hours of energy, and 1.6 million tons of wood are wasted by producing and shipping a monstrous 28 billion items of junk mail every year in Germany alone. The opt-in model looks like, as strategists say, the 'low hanging fruit' that can swiftly help resolve the problem and preserve our planet's resources.

It's important to note that the opt-out model doesn’t account for what psychologists call the “default effect.” Generally, about 80 percent of people will accept the default condition in most situations. This is why Google pays up to $15 billion every year to be the pre-installed default search engine on Apple computers. It’s why in Austria, where everybody is an organ donor unless they opt out, the donor consent rate is nearly 99 percent.

So, let's all start shouting about opt-in as a quick win!


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