Junk Mail, Business Behavior and Toxic Truths The Lowdown on Unwanted Paper, Corporate Practices and Property Pollution

How can I reduce the amount of junk mail that I receive?

—Jennifer Pearle, Brattleboro, VT

About 675 pieces of junk mail clog each of our mailboxes annually—that adds up to a nationwide total of four million tons a year. Reducing the volume of bulk mail you receive saves trees, energy, landfill space and water—not to mention your time.

So how do you erode the mountain of junk mail that fills your mailbox? Registering with the Direct Marketing Association (DMA)‘s Mail Preference Service can help, but it won’t stop the paper deluge completely. DMA passes along your name to marketers, who then remove it from their mailing lists for five years—if they want to. Steve Kehrli of Names in the News, a marketing firm that handles mass mailings for nonprofit organizations, says that, unfortunately, some companies “aren’t playing the game the right way”—they simply don’t comply with take-me-off-the-list requests (although most do).

Companies which do not receive DMA Mail Preference Service notices will also continue to send you mail. Stop the paper flow from a specific company by requesting that your name be placed on the company’s “in-house suppress file.” Since many companies rent their mailing lists to other firms, be sure to have your name taken off their rent lists as well. But don’t try marking junk mail “return to sender”: the post office will simply trash it.


Mail Preference Service
Direct Marketing Association
PO Box 9008
Farmingdale, NY 11735-9008
Tel: (212) 768-7277

Consumer Opt-Out
TRW Inc.
PO Box 919, Allen, TX 75002
Tel: (800) 353-0809

How can I find out how environmentally responsible a company is?

—Michael Waldron, Ithaca, NY

Ever wonder how “green” that new shirt really is? Or what kind of organizations are receiving money from your long distance phone company? Do you know if your favorite beverage company is using recycled plastic?

A little detective work can turn you into an informed consumer. Check your local library for the Directory of Corporate Affiliations (to find out who owns whom) and the Corporate Giving Directory (to find out where a company’s donations go). Organizations that provide information on the environmental and social impacts of corporate activity include Corporate Watch (www.corpwatch.org) and the Right to Know Network (www.ombwatch.org/rtknet). Uncle Sam can help, too: Both the Environmental Protection Agency (www.epa.gov) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (www.sec.gov/edgarhp.htm) provide access to corporate track records.

After you know who the bad guys are, you can transfer your business to the good guys by buying products approved by Green Seal, the Washington-based certifier of environmental goods, or by patronizing eco-conscious mail-order companies. For an extensive directory of green businesses, check out Coop America’s Green Pages (available online at www.coopamerica.org/gp).


Public Information Network
PO Box 95316
Seattle, WA 98145-2316
Tel: (206) 723-4276

Coop America
1612 K Street NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20003 Tel: (800) 58-GREEN

How do I find out if my property is contaminated by toxic waste?

—Bryan Blake, Conshohoken, PA

Over two billion pounds of toxic chemicals were released into the environment in 1995. The good news is that this astounding number actually represents an improvement, thanks in large part to the Toxic Substances Control and Resource Conservation and Recovery Acts, which regulate the transportation and storage of hazardous wastes. But toxic chemicals can remain in the environment for decades, sometimes long after the polluter has vacated the site. In the late 1970s, residents of Love Canal, New York, traced the prevalence of severe illnesses in their community to contaminated soil left behind by a chemical company that had occupied the site years earlier. Soon after the Love Canal incident, Congress passed the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act to ensure that similarly contaminated areas would be cleaned up—at the expense of the polluters, not taxpayers.

But not all toxic waste sites have been identified. To find out if you’re living in harm’s way, solicit the help of the Environmental Protection Agency office in your region. You can also contact the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, headed by former Love Canal resident Lois Gibbs. The group offers a plethora of helpful publications, including Love Canal: A Chronology of Events that Shaped a Movement ($9.95) and Using Your Right-To-Know: A Guide to the Community Right To Know Act ($9.95) .


Center for Health, Environment and Justice
PO Box 6806
Falls Church, VA 22040
Tel: (703) 237-2249

Right-to-Know Community Hotline
Tel: (800) 535-0202