A 'do-not-mail' list for catalogs

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Doug Krizner: On today's list of annoying things: unwanted catalogs stuffed in your mail box. Now there's an online service to help you choose what you get, and it saves a few trees along the way. Lenora Chu has our story.


Lenora Chu: Each year, American consumers get 19 billion catalogs in the mail. But only 2 percent of those catalogs ever spur a purchase -- most go straight to the trash. That's a lot of unwanted mail, says David Mizejewski of the National Wildlife Federation.

David Mizejewski: And in order to make the paper for those catalogs, it requires about 53 million trees.

Not to mention the emissions from processing that paper.

Mizejewski: The amount of energy that goes into it is roughly the equivalent of the amount of energy used by 1.2-million American homes -- and of course, it's all fossil fuels.

Enter Catalog Choice. The National Wildlife Federation and several environmental groups have launched a new, free service. Go online to CatalogChoice.org, pick the catalogs you want to block, and the service contacts the merchants for you. It's a "do-not-mail" list, so to speak. Mizejewski says it can also help catalog merchants save money.

Mizejewski: It doesn't really serve anybody's interests to inundate people with their products and their catalog if it's just irritating that consumer, because they're never going to order from it anyway.

But some companies are cautious about the new service. Research shows catalogs by mail do inspire people to shop online. Plus, companies like L.L. Bean already scrub customer lists periodically to eliminate mailings to people who don't order. L.L. Bean spokesperson Carolyn Beem:

Carolyn Beem: We agree with Catalog Choice in theory -- we want to make sure it works in practice as well.

L.L. Bean sends out 250 million catalogs a year. Paper and postage is expensive, Beem says, and it's bad business to mail catalogs to people who don't want them. But the company has to be sure that Catalog Choice's information is accurate, so they're cross-checking first with their own customer lists.

Beem: We need to be sure that what they are collecting is information that comes from customers.

The consumer response though has been huge, says Mizejewski -- 270,000 people have used the site since its October launch. But don't celebrate your clutter-free mailbox just yet: Processing a request can take up to 10 weeks.

From Los Angeles, I'm Lenora Chu for Marketplace.

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