John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Which American communities have made the strongest attempts to suppress postal advertising?
Which U.S. city is most depriving itself of the chance to win the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes?
The answer will probably surprise no one. In the fight against tree-destroying junk mail, the city swinging its broadax hardest is... Seattle.
That's according to a new ranking pulled together by privacy-protection company Catalog Choice. The Berkeley-based entity has surveyed its customers, who contract with Catalog Choice to have their names scrubbed from the lists of junk-mail senders (even though you can do that yourself), and discovered that Seattle, Santa Fe, and Boulder made the most removal requests per capita in March. The month's worth of unsent insurance enticements, credit-card offerings and catalogs for Extremely Weird Spiders (or is that just me?) added up to about 170,000 pounds of solid waste or 1,100 trees, according to the company.
One would expect the net weight of direct mail would drop in coming years, due to the rise of equally annoying e-mail spam. But that decline is not so certain thanks to an initiative by the ailing U.S. Postal Service, the "Every Door Direct Mail" program, that allows businesses to carpet-bomb entire neighborhoods with junk. According to the USPS description of the program, "you don't even need to know names or street addresses. You simply identify the neighborhoods you want to target, and your printed piece is delivered with the day's mail to every address." Great!
The average number of unwanted mailings a household gets per week is about 700 a year, says Catalog Choice, equal to 10 billion pounds of verbiage that only about half of recipients read.
All those truckloads of pizza ads and Penny Savers also add up to a big strain on city budgets. It costs cities about $40 a ton to send garbage to a landfill, but only about $10 a ton for them to contract with Catalog Choice. "The benefits of the service are really felt locally, because it's the local municipality that doesn’t have to pay to dispose of that waste," says Chuck Teller, the company's executive director.
Below, find the company's rankings of the 20 most "mail-efficient" metropolitan areas for March.
1. Seattle, WA
2. Santa Fe, NM
3. Boulder, CO
4. Ithaca, NY
5. Truckee, CA
6. Napa, CA
7. Bridgeport, CT
8. San Francisco, CA
9. Bozeman, MT
10. San Jose, CA
11. Corvallis, OR
12. Johnstown, PA
13. Boston, MA
14. Charlottesville, VA
15. Burlington, VT
16. Kingston, NY
17. Santa Cruz, CA
18. Salinas, CA
19. Lebanon, NH
20. La Crosse, WI
Additional reporting by Nate Berg.