Newswise — Busy consumers, tired of sifting through overflowing mailboxes can take heart: a new free online service gives users the power to choose the catalogs they no longer want to receive in the mail. Developed by a group of leading environmental organizations, Catalog Choice aims to improve the efficiency of catalog distribution by reducing the number of repeat and unsolicited mailings and promoting the best environmental practices in the catalog industry.

"Every day, millions of unwanted catalogs clog consumers' mailboxes and are immediately tossed in the trash. More than just an annoyance, they are overflowing municipal waste systems, devouring precious natural resources, and contributing to pollution and global warming," says Laura Hickey, senior director for Global Warming Education at the National Wildlife Federation, which joined the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Ecology Center to launch the new service. Hickey notes that unlike other do-not-mail services, a unique feature of Catalog Choice is that it is free.

Each year, 19 billion catalogs are mailed to American consumers. What's the impact?

"¢ Number of trees used " 53 million trees"¢ Pounds of paper used " 3.6 million tons "¢ Energy used to produce this volume of paper " 38 trillion BTUs, enough to power 1.2 million homes per year"¢ Contribution to global warming " 5.2 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions, equal to the annual emissions of two million cars "¢ Waste water discharges from this volume of paper " 53 billion gallons, enough to fill 81,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools

Environmental impact estimates were made using the Environmental Defense paper calculator

"People are exasperated by the amount of unwanted catalogs they receive, especially as we approach the holiday season. Yet anyone who has tried to get their name removed from a mailing list knows the process can fuel frustration," says Martin Bourque, Executive Director of The Ecology Center, a non-profit that managed the development of the service and runs the curbside recycling program in Berkeley, California. "We believe that opting out of a mail order catalog should be as easy as it is to make the purchase."

At launch time, Catalog Choice has a growing database of catalog companies. In addition to removing themselves from these lists, users can add any new catalog to the database. Over time, the service is expected to have thousands of catalogs listed.

"So many of us are looking for ways to simplify our lives and also do our part to help the environment," says Kate Sinding, an NRDC senior attorney. "Here's a way to do both at once. By providing a free—and easy— way to get rid of unwanted catalogs, this service not only gives people renewed control over their own mailboxes, but also serves to reduce global warming pollution and deforestation associated with catalog mailings."

In addition to the online service, Catalog Choice plans to survey merchants' business activities and promote sustainable practices in the catalog industry. The sponsoring groups hope that providing consumers with information about fiber sourcing from endangered forests, recycled paper, energy efficiency, and list management will help drive purchasing decisions based on best practices within the industry and prompt catalogers to reduce their environmental footprint. Catalog Choice also helps merchants. Merchants can obtain a free Merchant Account that allows them to obtain the list of opt-out requests in electronic format on a scheduled basis.

"Catalog Choice is good for business," explains Al Bessin, a consulting partner with Lenser, a direct mail and marketing firm based in San Rafael, California. "This free service will help catalogers be more efficient by enabling them to remove non-responsive consumers from their lists and reduce expenses associated with paper, printing and postage. At the same time, the service is promoting and rewarding responsible citizenship."

The Catalog Choice taskforce plans to carefully monitor the efficacy of the online service and explore possible legislative solutions to complement and strengthen the program.

Catalog Choice is supported with funding from The Overbrook Foundation, the Kendeda Fund and the Merck Family Fund. To view the service, visit About the Catalog Choice Task Force: The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) is America's largest conservation organization, with more than five million members and supporters in 48 state-affiliated organizations. NWF's three main focus areas are connecting people to nature, reversing global warming, and protecting and restoring critical wildlife habitats.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is a leading national environmental action organization that uses law, science, and the support of 1.2 million members and online activists to protect the planet's wildlife and wild places and to ensure a safe and healthy environment.

The Ecology Center, based in Berkeley, California, promotes environmentally sound and socially just practices through direct service, education and information, practical tools and products, demonstration projects, and policy options.