Ask Betty: What to do about those pesky junk flyers and catalogs


Plastics baled for recycling in 2014. Photo: Ash Daniel Plastics baled for recycling in 2014. Photo: Ash Daniel

Teri Kent runs Charlottesville’s Better World Betty, a non-profit organization and online resource for locals looking to shrink their impact on the environment. Every month, Betty—Kent’s ’50s-housewife-meets-earth-goddess alter ego—answers the most burning eco-questions from our readers about energy use, water, waste and recycling, transportation, and green buying. 

The majority of my junk mail is credit card applications. Can you please make them stop?  

Junk mail is still very much a problem. Each year more than 24 billion newspapers, 12.5 billion catalogs, and 350 million magazines are published. This adds up to 56,736 baseball fields of trees. And much of that ends up in the trash, rather than recycled. If you use a smartphone, a great new tool I love is the Paper Karma app. You take a picture of the junk mail with the name and address showing, and the app then sends the company opt-out information to stop the mailings.  Brilliant, right?

You can also use the Internet: (quick, free way to reduce junk mail) and (highly recommended, quick, informative). And if you’re looking for a one-stop shop try It promises to completely remove you from up to 95 percent of the junk mail lists by contacting each organization from which you receive mail and/or catalogs for a one-time fee of $41. It will also donate $10 from each fee to nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity and New American Dream. What are you Betties waiting for?

I just moved back to Charlottesville (specifically to Earlysville) from Texas where we recycled everything, and now my neighbors tell me that I don’t have to do this anymore because the trash company sorts it. It doesn’t feel right. Is this true?

I’m so glad you asked. We get asked this question at least once a week, which is why Better World Betty, along with GreenBlue (two local nonprofits), formed a task force on recycling to address this very issue.

It doesn’t take an environmental (or rocket) scientist to know that when you mix everything from newspaper to spaghetti to moldy food together it’s more difficult to then separate and recycle, and the result is a lower quality product for the manufacturers who use recycled content. Mike Ledford, who manages the van Der Linde facility at Zion Crossroads (whom local haulers like Time and Dixon use), recently stated at a public Albemarle County Board of Supervisors session that van der Linde Recycling gets “between 20 and 30 percent recycling rate” from household trash or municipal solid waste. The EPA-defined “single stream” system, which puts all recyclables in one bin—not to be confused with van Der Linde’s “all in one” system, with recyclables and garbage in the same container—may be easy, but it’s not getting the same 96 percent rate as separating your recyclables like you did in Texas. And it’s not the long-term solution we’re seeking if we want to reduce our overall use of resources on the planet while teaching good stewardship.

Our feeling is, if you build it, they will come. If true source-separated drop-offs and curbside recycling is readily available and easy for the public, people will do it. If not at curbside, we’ll need more convenience centers throughout the county. In comparison, Augusta County has 10 recycling centers for citizens who want to recycle.

Wow, Betty really got on her recycled soap box! In the meantime, you can do one of three things: Take your recyclables to McIntire Recycling Center (Wednesday-Friday 8:30am-5:20pm; Saturday 9:30am-5:20pm; Sunday 12:30-5:20pm). Call Republic Services or a smaller company like Evergreen Document Destruction and Recycling. Use the all in one method as a last resort, knowing it gets lower rates.

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