GOOD Instructions: How to Achieve Mailbox Zero

Ever heard the adage "Eastern medicine tells you the train is coming, Western medicine tells you you've been hit by it"? It...

Ever heard the adage "Eastern medicine tells you the train is coming, Western medicine tells you you’ve been hit by it"? It applies to our relationship with waste, too: We make a mess then try to find ways of dealing with it, as opposed to preventing the mess in the first place. A great example is recycling—it's important to do, sure, but precycling is far more effective, and there is no better place to start than your own mailbox.

An estimated 4 million tons of junk mail are sent each year, and much of it never even gets opened. If a million people stopped receiving junk mail, we could save up to a million and a half trees annually. Meanwhile, pulp and paper mills are among the largest environmental pollutants in the country, to say nothing of the energy required to print, distribute, and recycle paper in the first place. With that in mind, here are our instructions for achieving Mailbox Zero.

An obvious first step: Enroll in online banking. No more stamps, paper, personal checks, late bills, and sensitive information floating around. Some banks even offer incentives to get you to switch to paperless billing.

Sign up for online updates
. Whether it's dentist appointments, upcoming sales, magazine-subscription renewals, banking offers, or library notices—almost all companies and organizations will be happy to update you via email. If you are worried about too much junk email, start a separate account for non-personal emails.

Read the fine print when you give out your address for any reason
. There are sometimes clauses in there giving companies permission to either contact you via mail with special offers, or share your address with other companies. Times to pay particular attention are when you're changing your address with the USPS, shopping online, and filing warranty information. Opt out of all mailings and write on the form “Please do not sell my name and address.”

If you are getting catalogs in the mail, call the company and tell them to stop sending them to you
. It's a five-minute call with lasting implications, and considering 75 percent of homes in the United States are equipped with Internet access, online shopping or browsing is an easy paperless alternative.

Sign up for Tonic’s Precycle program
. This company will stop most junk mail from making its way to you, including credit card and mortgage offers, coupons, advertisements and random mailers. There is a fee, but they do all the heavy lifting for you. They also plant five trees on your behalf when you sign up. For just credit card offers, you can officially opt out of offers, too.

Contact local business and supermarkets about their fliers
. You can do this through their websites or with a phone call. This one takes a little more work, but if you do it, mailers can be suppressed forever. You can also post a sign on your door or mailbox, for those deliveries that come by hand.

Get to know your postal carrier
, either in person, or with a nice note left in your mailbox for them. Let them know that you do not want fliers, circulars, and junk mail, and ask if they can help you reduce your inbox litter in other ways.

Stop a former resident’s mail from being delivered to your house
. To do this, go to the post office and fill out a change of address form for them. For new address write, "Moved, left no forwarding address." You can give this to your postal carrier or to someone at the post office.

Send back junk mail instead of chucking it
. Cross out the address and bar code, circle the first class postage and write "Refused: Return to sender." Put it in the mailbox and it will be sent back gratis.

Send mail with awareness
. If you love to send letters, perhaps send postcards or create a letter that folds into itself becoming its own envelope. There are also cards you can plant. Flowers and a thank you card in one! Get creative and cut your outgoing mail in half as well.