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Cambridge and Brookline put junk mail in their online crosshairs

Posted by Brock Parker  August 2, 2011 10:08 AM

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Cambridge and Brookline are pushing back at junk mail with new online registries designed to make it easy for residents to opt out of unwanted phone books, catalogs and credit card solicitations.

Using a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, Boston-based Product Stewardship Institute, Inc. and California-based Catalog Choice have teamed up with the two communities to develop website portals where residents can opt-out of the junk mail deliveries for free.

The websites, and https://
, will tap into an opt-out registry developed and operated by Catalog Choice, which works to help people reduce unwanted mail and save natural resources.

Randi Mail, director of recycling for the City of Cambridge, said the city is hoping the promotion of the opt-out registry will help cut down on wasteful use of paper, save trees and save the city money spent on hauling trash.

She said she has already opted out of a phone book and catalog she’s been receiving at her Cambridge home.

“The fact is that a lot of people don’t even look at these,” Mail said.

Every year 100 billion pieces of unsolicited mail are delivered to Americans, and more than 650,000 tons of phone books are delivered to households across the country, according to a press release Product Stewardship Institute, Inc. and Catalog Choice issued about the opt-out project. About a third of the phone books are recycled, but 410,000 tons are thrown in landfills or incinerators.

Product Stewardship Institute, Inc., which is a national nonprofit group working to reduce the health and environmental impacts of consumer products, initiated the project to bring the opt-out registries to Brookline and Cambridge residents.

Scott Cassel, the executive director of the Institute, said six to eight cities across the country have joined the effort to cut down on unwanted phone books and mail. Cassel said funding for the website portals in Cambridge and Brookline comes from a portion of a $75,000 grant from the state Department of Environmental Protection to increase understanding about product stewardship among Massachusetts local governments. He said the opt-out registries in Cambridge and Brookline will include oversight of which companies comply with resident requests to opt out of their mailings and catalogs.

Kate Hagemann, the project manager for the Product Stewardship Institute, said anyone can sign up for the opt-out registry through Catalog Choice’s website, But Hagemann said the Brookline and Cambridge portals will also allow the communities to track how many of their residents are signing up.

Randi Mail said Cambridge pays about $90 for every ton on of waste it hauls away, and she said she’s hoping the opt-out program can help the city make further inroads in the amount of trash it must dispose.

Last fall, Cambridge adopted a single-stream recycling program that Mail said is on pace to increase the city’s recycling by 900 tons for a 12-month period ending in November.

She said that is about a 12.5 percent increase in recycling that would save the city about $80,000 in waste removal costs.

Brookline has also adopted a single-stream recycling program in which residents do not have to sort their recyclable items into different categories and last month the town was named one of the state “Green Communities” for its efforts to improve energy efficiency.

Selectwoman Jesse Mermell, who co-chair’s the town’s Climate Action Committee, said in a press release that the production of the unwanted mail and phone books contributes to climate change.

“Reducing paper waste will not only lower greenhouse gas emissions but will also cut waste and pollution, in line with Brookline’s commitment to reduce our community’s carbon footprint,” Mermell said.

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