Turning Mailed Trash into Treasure


If you’re anything like the average person, a trip to the mailbox yields more junk than personal letters — in fact, Americans received about 84 billion pieces of junk mail in 2011, according to The New York Times.

Sure, you can send it straight to the recycling bin, but that feels wasteful, particularly when you consider that a huge portion of that mail is never even opened. Instead of reflexively tossing the piles of unwanted offers and catalogs, consider these six ways to nix the annoyance of junk mail:

Getting spilled sprinkles back into the container is not sweat with a funnel crafted out of a return envelope.

Getting spilled sprinkles back into the container is no sweat with a funnel crafted out of a return envelope.

1. Put one of those return envelopes you receive to good use by cutting off a corner in a triangular shape, then snipping off a tiny portion of the point to make a funnel that works well for tasks like refilling salt and pepper shakers.

2. Craft a tiny gift bag with a pattern from JunkMailGems.com. The detailed step-by-step instructions make it easy to create a customized bag that can hold gift cards and small presents.

3. Shred your mail into tiny strips, then take it to your workplace to use as packing material for any packages that need a little extra padding.

4. Throwing paper outside is usually littering, but not when you shred it and use it as mulch in your garden. (Just skip the envelopes with cellophane windows.) Water it well, add a layer of topsoil or traditional mulch to the top, and voilà — you’ve found a use for junk mail that also helps keep weeds at bay.

5. Make paper beads out of the catalog pages you receive. The Junk Wave explains how to take triangular-shaped strips and turn them into colorful beads, perfect for a pretty necklace or bracelet.

6. While getting creative with your junk mail is a great way to turn a bad situation good, the best thing you can do is reduce the amount you get in the first place. Contact the companies directly that are sending you unwanted mail, or visit CatalogChoice.org to get your name on a do-not-mail list. You’re unlikely to ever completely eliminate the junk mail you receive, but getting less is a step in the right direction.

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Haley Shapley

Haley Shapley is based in Seattle, where recycling is just as cool as Macklemore, walking in the rain without an umbrella, and eating locally sourced food. She writes for a wide range of national and regional publications, covering everything from sustainability and health to travel and retail.

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