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November 16, 2007

Bill Moyers talks with Daniel Katz, Environmental Program Director of the Overbook Foundation

BILL MOYERS: Any day now I expect to see cable news break in with the story, "Entire city buried by an avalanche of catalogues." Catalogs — the great American dream machine. You name it, there's a catalogue for it. LL Bean, Land's End, Eddie Bauer, Pottery Barn. I have them all. In my closet, under the bed, out in the hall, in the backseat of our car, right here in the studio. And I don't dare open those doors from fear more will come flooding in.

What started as a free choice by a casual shopper became catalog creep. Some wanted, most not.

As the holidays get close you can hear the buzz saws felling the trees that become uninvited guests in your living room. But there's hope. Daniel Katz is here to tell us about it. Dan Katz is the Dr. Phil of catalogue clutter. The maven of the overstuffed mailbox. Actually, most of the time he's the Environmental Program Director of the Overbrook Foundation here in New York. Overbook joined with the Kendeda Fund and the Merck Family Fund to create Catalogues, you have met your match. Welcome Dan Katz.

DANIEL KATZ: Thank you.

BILL MOYERS: Alright. You heard my SOS. Stop me before I kill another tree. What do I do?

DANIEL KATZ: Well, first of all, you've got to get rid of the catalogues that you have.

BILL MOYERS: But you can't, it's impossible.

DANIEL KATZ: We can help you. We can help you. So-


DANIEL KATZ: So there's a new website.


DANIEL KATZ: and what you should do, probably, is take your catalogues, rip off the back page, recycle these, the big parts that you don't want, and you stack up the pages here that have your name and customer number on it. You go to the website, and you sign up. And in about, well, in your case, it may take you a few more minutes. But, ordinarily, it would just take you a few minutes to opt out of the catalogues that you don't want to get. You can keep getting the catalogues that you do want to get.

BILL MOYERS: You tell each merchant, in my behalf, that I don't want their catalogue.


BILL MOYERS: Don't they said, "But, wait a minute, let Moyers call call us himself."

DANIEL KATZ: You would think it would be that easy. But, you know, if you want to place an order, if you want to get a catalogue, it'll take you a couple of seconds, no problem. But, unfortunately, to get off of a catalogue mailing list it takes quite a long time. It's arduous. And one of the reasons that this site and this program was created is because it was just taking too long. And it was too hard for an individual and we didn't think that individual customers were being respected enough. So we created to help customers, and will help — we'll do it for them.

BILL MOYERS: But isn't there a law that requires the merchants to take my name off if I ask them to?

DANIEL KATZ: No. There's CAN SPAM legislation on the Internet so you can't get spam. But in terms of your mailbox, unfortunately, there is no law like that. You can get off of getting phone calls, right?

BILL MOYERS: Yeah. Oh, I signed up for that. But-

DANIEL KATZ: Yeah and, you know, and 72% of Americans have signed up for that. But in terms of your mailbox, no, that's public property. And anybody can get in. But we don't think anybody should be able to get in. Especially if you don't want them there.

BILL MOYERS: Do you charge a fee for this?

DANIEL KATZ: No. It's totally free. And, you know, it's pretty remarkable. The site's been up for less than a month and about 120,000 users have already singed up opting out of about a million catalogues. But, in fact, that number's really small. Because catalogue companies don't normally prospect with one catalogue. They're going to prospect several. You know, it's going to be-

BILL MOYERS: What do you mean prospect?

DANIEL KATZ: Well, catalogue companies try and get new customers. So you may have shopped at one catalogue, and, one company, and want to get that catalogue. But you may have the demographics, you may purchase like-- another company and they think you might be a good customer. So they're going to mail you catalogues. They're going to prospect you.

BILL MOYERS: So that means the merchants are sharing the information that I bought from the this catalog. In fact that's the frustration, to be frank. I'll order something from this catalogue, something for my grandkid right there. And then, six weeks later, I'll start getting catalogues from companies I never heard of and don't want.

DANIEL KATZ: It's pretty remarkable. Around the country nearly 20 billion catalogues are mailed every year. Every American, man, woman and child, are getting 63 catalogues a year. Man, woman and child. Sixty-three catalogues a year. It's about 40 pounds of catalogues. And it's just too many. And here's an amazing statistic. A prospecting rate of return of 1.2 to 1.5 percent is good. So all the other catalogues, 98% of the catalogues go from the mailbox to the recycling bin, if we're lucky. Or they just end up in the trash. Ninety-eight percent. Probably 50% of the people never even look at the catalogues or look at that mail. They just take it from the mailbox and it goes to the trash.

BILL MOYERS: What is the environmental impact of 20 billion catalogues being mailed to consumers every year?

DANIEL KATZ: Well, from a climate change perspective, it's about putting an additional two million cars on the road, if not more. Catalogues take up a lot of energy. They use up a lot of trees. Something like 53 million trees a year are used to produce all these catalogues. The water waste — the landfill costs are enormous. And, you know, most catalogue companies also use very little recycled paper to make their catalogues. And that's got to change.

So another part of Catalogue Choice, by the way, is, next year, the groups that are involved, National Wildlife Federation, NRDC and Ecology Center, will be coming out with a set of best practices for catalogue companies. So, that would mean are you using the best paper? Are you not buying paper from endangered forests? Are you using the right size? Do you have an easy opt in or opt out mechanism? There are a lot better things that catalogue companies could do.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, but the industry will tell you that, first of all, they plant 1.6 million trees every day to replace the trees they use in their wood and paper products. They also will tell you that this helps the environment by saving a lot of trips to the shopping mall. So that that gasoline you would have used, isn't used.

DANIEL KATZ: Yeah, it does save some energy if it's efficient. But, you know, we've heard these statistics about the savings of energy by not driving to the mall. But no one has looked at the savings of just walking into your compute-- using your computer and making a purchase there. And, look, there's nothing wrong with getting catalogues. People complain to us all the time, now they get the wrong catalogues, and they get the same catalogue too many times. They're getting the catalogue eight or ten, 12 times.

BILL MOYERS: Are there catalogue companies that have already asked your help?

DANIEL KATZ: Yes. Land's End, LL Bean, Gardener's Supply, have already signed, and they're going to be working with us. And we know that there are dozens more. I would imagine that, at the end of the day, every catalogue company will want to be a part of Because we're going to-- we want to make it more efficient for them to send less catalogues.

BILL MOYERS: You can find more information about our Web site at Dan Katz, thank you for being with me.

DANIEL KATZ: Thanks for having me.

BILL MOYERS: That's it for the JOURNAL. See you next week. I'm Bill Moyers.

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