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Holiday Gift and Event Guide — The Altamont Enterprise, November 26, 2009

A catalog of ways to limit holiday mail, plus 10 fun things to do with unwanted paper

By Ellen Zunon

The catalog season is upon us. In a four-week period at this time last year, I accumulated eight pounds of what some people call “junk mail.” This volume of paper and cardboard consisted of 10 catalogs, 23 credit-card offers, 16 newsletters or flyers, 17 requests for donations, seven other solicitations — political or otherwise, and a whopping 53 other ads.

When I finally got around to shredding the correspondence I didn’t want, my shredder got indigestion.

Sometimes I enjoy flipping through colorful catalogs even though I probably don’t need more stuff. More often than not, I end up tossing them into my recycling bin.

And I’m not the only consumer who does that. A recent article by Jeffrey Ball in The Wall Street Journal stated that more than 17 billion catalogs were mailed in the United States last year – about 56 for every American. But only 1.3 percent of those catalogs generated a sale.

Ball also cited a 1999 report by the Environmental Defense Fund that said that producing all those catalogs consumed more energy in one year than one million homes.

With those statistics in mind, you may ask how you can cut down on mailbox clutter and reduce the flow of forest to factory to landfill. An organization called Catalog Choice allows you to register at its website, www.catalogchoice.org,to indicate which catalogs you do not wish to receive anymore. The organization then contacts those companies to request removal of your name from their mailing lists.

Over a million people have already registered at the site, which offers this service free of charge and does not sell or otherwise disclose information about their site visitors. The site also offers direct links to a number of online catalogs so that consumers can browse paperless versions of their favorite catalogs.

You can also reduce the amount of advertising mail you receive by going to the website of the Direct Marketing Association a www.dmachoice.org. DMA’s Mail Preference Service, created in 1971, is intended to help consumers manage the amount and type of commercial and nonprofit mail they receive.

The site classifies direct mail into four categories: credit card offers, catalogs, magazine offers, and other mail offers. You can request to start or stop receiving mail from individual companies within each category — or from an entire category at once. In addition, the site offers guidance in protecting yourself from identity theft.

Next, if you don’t want to keep receiving all those pre-screened credit card offers, you can go to the official consumer credit reporting industry website at www.optoutprescreen.com. The site processes requests from consumers to opt in or out of receiving unsolicited offers of credit or insurance. You can also call the consumer reporting agencies toll-free at 1-888-567-8688, or write directly to each of the major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

Check out the fine print on the card offers you receive, where addresses are given for each of these companies, or Google them for mailing addresses. I am always careful to shred these offers before I discard them to prevent anyone from trying to get a card in my name.

I also pick and choose which offers I don’t want to continue receiving by sending a half-page letter back to the company in its own postage-paid envelope, asking it to remove my name from its mailing list. I mass-produce my own letters on my computer, leaving a blank space to fill in the name of each company to which I send a request.

This has been effective in a number of cases; I have received a politely worded response from more than one credit card company, and the flow of paper has greatly diminished.

In fairness to the businesses that send us all these ads, I realize that millions of Americans earn their living in the direct-mail sector. In fact, according to the Direct Marketing Association, each year, mail-order marketing generates more than $2 trillion in sales and charitable donations in the United States alone. And the U.S. Post Office would also lose millions in revenue if we opted out of all catalogs and ads.

I don’t want to do away with direct marketing altogether; I just want to make informed choices that benefit the environment as well as our economy. After all, mail order catalogs are a great American tradition. The National Mail Order Association claims that the first American catalog was created by Benjamin Franklin in 1744, and it advertised scientific and technical books.

10 fun things

So what are the ten fun things you can do with all that unwanted paper?

— 1. Make paper airplanes;

— 2.Do origami – make paper cranes;

— 3. Make papier mâché for a piñata;

— 4. If it has your name, address or other personal information on it, shred and recycle it;

— 5. Shred it and use it for composting or mulch;

— 6.Shred it and use for cushioning fragile items when you pack them to send or store;

— 7. Make your own recycled paper (See your local craft store for a papermaking kit);

— 8. Cut pictures out of catalogs for collaging

— 9. Make paper dolls from catalog pages; or

— 10. You can always make confetti – it’s fun to throw, if not to clean up!

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