The big companies most to blame for cramming our letter boxes with junk mail have been unmasked. Well-known catalogue retailers, supermarket chains and publishing companies have all been labelled as woeful paper wasters.
One of the worst offenders is the clothing company, Boden, which recently hit the headlines after the US president’s wife, Michelle Obama, was reported to have ordered one of its catalogues. Several other catalogue companies have been fingered, including Freemans, Argos and Littlewoods.
Also under fire for failing to save paper are the Swedish home furnishing giant, IKEA; the supermarkets Morrisons, Somerfield and Sainsburys; Bauer, which publishes Bella, Heat and FHM; and Future, which publishes computer gaming magazines like XBox 360.
Some of the companies have leapt to their own defence, arguing that their paper is sourced from sustainable forests and recyclable. But consumers have expressed frustration at the mountains of junk mail and waste paper they create.
The average British household is bombarded by 650 items of junk mail every year. The UK consumes four times more paper per person than the world average, and paper production damages forests, pollutes water and helps disrupt the climate.
A year ago the ‘Shrink’ project run by a coalition of European environmental groups challenged 20 of Britain’s biggest paper users to cut their consumption in half. While some, like pension company Standard Life, IPC Media (publisher of Pick Me Up, Marie Claire, and Nuts) and Haymarket (publisher of What Car?, What HiFI?, and MediaWeek), have won praise for their efforts, most have attracted criticism.
“Catalogue retailers and supermarkets need to wake up and take action to tackle the most pointless and unpopular forms of paper waste: packaging and junk mail,” said Shrink project co-ordinator, Mandy Haggith.
“Even paper made in Europe can include fibres from illegal or destructive logging. Turning trees, the oldest-lived organisms on the planet, into trash, like excess packaging and junk mail, is a flagrant misuse of a precious resource.”
The companies are named and shamed in a new ‘scorecard’ produced by Haggith, based near Lochinver in Sutherland. She is the author of 'Paper Trails: From Trees to Trash, the True Cost of Paper' published last year by Virgin Books/Random House.
Robert Rijkhoff of the Stop Junk Mail campaign said: “There are still many companies out there that simply aim to post as much unsolicited mail through our letterboxes as possible. Let’s hope Shrink’s findings will encourage companies such as Boden and Freemans to clean up their act.”
Boden, however, insisted that it did its best to minimise harm to the environment. As well as sourcing its paper from sustainably managed forests and making it recyclable, the company was trying to wean its customers off catalogues and onto the internet, said a Boden spokeswoman.
“Annoyingly, the catalogue remains an important part of getting customers to order,” she added. “Whatever the customer wants, however, we are continually driving to reduce the amount of paper a customer receives.”
This, though, wasn’t the experience of one dissatisfied Boden customer, Louise Jamieson, a sustainability consultant from Hertfordshire. She asked the company to stop sending her catalogues because she always ordered online, but still gets one delivered every two months.
The mountains of paper that end up in her recycling bin as a result concern her. “Are they listening?” she said. “I don’t need a catalogue!”
The Shop Direct Group, which includes Littlewoods, said it was reducing the number of catalogues it produced, and cutting paper use in its head office. Argos said its catalogues were “iconic” but it only printed as many as were collected from its stores.
Somerfield supermarket, which was recently taken over by the Co-op, pointed out that moves to reduce paper use had to be balanced against the need to communicate effectively with customers.
The Future publishing group criticised the Shrink study for missing the point by failing to compare like with like. “We work very hard to operate in way that is environmentally and socially responsible,” said the group’s head of communications, Vicky Bacon. “More than 90% of our unsold magazines are recycled and used to produce newspapers.”
Bauer Media said it would cut its paper use by 1,500 tonnes this year by reducing waste and trimming the size of magazines. Other companies criticised did not respond to requests for comments from the Sunday Herald.