Junk Mail is Clogging the Supply Chain!

Junk mail

Every week I receive approximately 20 -25 pieces of physical mail in my mailbox. Amazingly, week after week only 1-2 pieces of that mail are actually bills or other items that I should be getting.

The rest is Junk!

That’s right 95% of the mail that I get is Junk and gets immediately thrown in the recycle bin.

But that Junk mail still takes resources to be made and distributed.

What an absolute waste!

Most of this Junk mail is advertising.

Local restaurants, stores, services, charities, politicians and more all choose to have printed their information on sales, promotions, new products or services. In short they all want something from you.

They want you to buy, to visit, or to support their business or their cause. Physical advertising is the way they have chosen to get their word out. And certainly I am happy to support local businesses.

But why am I inundated with such an extraordinary amount of this collateral material? I do my part by recycling all of these leaflets and flyers. Occasionally one of them may catch my attention but that is very rare.

If I am in need of a pizza, a plumber, a credit card, lawn care, a meal of any kind, coupons or information on a political candidate’s platform I can easily get any of this, when and as I want it, online.

And I believe that most people are like me. They may leaf through all of the junk mail but most of it quickly ends up in the trash. The percentage of people who actually use this stuff must be really, really low.

But the impact on the Supply Chain is enormous when considered in aggregate. According to pca.state.mn.us:

  • You spend 30 hours each year just handling junk mail (five minutes per day).
  • One day’s supply of junk mail contains the energy to heat 250,000 homes.
  • 100 million trees are needed to produce one year’s worth of junk mail.
  • 5.8 million tons of waste is generated

The Waste Away group further reports that as much as 100 BILLION pieces of junk mail are delivered in the U.S. every year. That’s 1/3 of all mail! That is 1/3 of all resources in the mail delivery Supply Chain are spent on junk mail! Wow!

Waste Away also states that 42% of all junk mail goes directly to landfills completely unopened. Like myself most people just toss this stuff. Given that the factories that produce junk mail generate carbon emissions equivalent to that of 9 million cars this is just astonishing.

Isn’t there a better way than advertising through Junk mail?

The Behavioural and Cultural Challenge

Unfortunately many people like receiving, and responding to, physical mail.

It is analogous to the situation with books. Most people still like to have and hold a physical book to read it. The advent of ebooks had an impact on that market but still the vast majority of books purchased and read are physical. The same is true with mail. People like to physically hold their mail and their books.

According to dmn3.com 56% of Americans say that receiving mail is a pleasure, 39% will try a new business because of direct mail advertising (DMA), 23% of direct mail recipients will visit the associated store, and direct mail recipients will visit and spend 28% more than non-direct mail recipients.

The Direct Marketing Association also finds that junk mail gets a 4.4% response rate from consumers as compared to 0.12% for email. That is direct mail gets a 10-30x higher response rate than email.

Research also indicates that this is not just a phenomenon with the older generations. Millennials have an affinity for receiving physical mail items as well as their elders.

There is no denying that junk mail advertising does get results for businesses. And consumers respond.


Reducing junk mail falls into two categories of actions to my mind: prevention and impact minimization.

If you can stop or reduce the production of Junk mail in the first place then you can fix the problem at its source. Whereas if you are still getting it your best option is to recycle these items so that they are kept out of landfills.

To prevent the creation of junk mail you should consider:

  • sign up for online emails/bills/paperless items where you desire
  • get yourself removed off of mailing lists. Some resources to help you here can be found at Readers Digest.
  • when asked to provide your address indicate that you do not want to be added to a mailing list


Play an active role. If you like it continue on. If you want to reduce it or eliminate it then start getting yourself off of mailing lists and use online resources as an alternative.

Every piece of junk mail you discontinue will contribute to reduced deforestation, reduced carbon emissions, reduced trucking, and reduced costs of handling.

And all of that will contribute to a more efficient and environmentally friendly Supply Chain world!

Originally published on June 18, 2019.