Walsh’s Wonderings — Litter bombing

Robert F. Walsh

They’re growing like weeds on our sidewalks and roadways, these unsolicited advertising circulars stuffed into bread bags and masquerading as newspapers. I remember a time I was excited to see one appear on my driveway: It meant I was getting a sample edition of my local paper. Now, as with the rest of the weeds on my lawn, I’m desperately trying to stop them from spreading.

I understand advertisers subsidize the cost of the content I consume, making things like my morning reading ritual more affordable. However, there is no “content” in this latest plague of junk left on our doorsteps. It’s more like room service waking us up at the crack of dawn with a complimentary — yet unrequested — plate of bacon, lettuce, and tomato on rye. Except without the bacon. Or the tomato. Or the rye. When addressing complaints, they wonder why no one’s happy with all those free plates they’ve been delivering.

While we expect our TV shows, newspapers and magazines to include advertisements, they’re sprinkled into content we’ve elected to receive. The hastily wrapped driveway droppings that go by names like “Redplum: The Savings Source” are more like someone screaming the McDonald’s jingle from your lawn. Picture John Cusack holding a boombox over his head underneath his girlfriend’s bedroom window, except it’s playing the Toys “R” Us theme instead of In Your Eyes.

These circulars are worse than junk mail because they’re not even paying into the system for the privilege. These “packages” are tossed like grenades from moving cars onto our property, where they often stay for weeks, serving as an unofficial referendum on neighborhood beautification.

They drift into the street and become bloated corpses come the first rain, eventually stopping up the sewers and becoming a road hazard. Wrapped in plastic, they won’t even deteriorate. In winter, these paper landmines lurk underneath the fallen snow to clog the snow blowers of the unsuspecting. They pile up and form a neon sign for burglars: “I’m on vacation!”

Redplum’s parent company, Valassis, bills itself as “Intelligent media delivery,” but its opt-out policy for this program of intentional littering is anything but. Valassis warns users to enter the address “exactly how it appears on our mailings to you” in order to stop the deliveries, but there are no addresses on the mailings they toss onto our driveways. In the ultimate show of arrogance, they go on to ask for a phone number and email address to ensure removal from their database. (Because why wouldn’t we trust them to guard our privacy, right?)

Some like the coupons, saying, “Just throw it away if you don’t want to read it.” Well, we only just got rid of all those phone book deliveries. These circulars fill up our recycling bins faster than that 70s crying Native American can wipe away his tears. Recycling all these mailings isn’t free — who’s paying for this?

There’s hope. When a local township issued littering fines to the Detroit Free Press for this practice, the newspaper filed a lawsuit claiming its right to free speech was being violated. It argued that leaving unwanted circulars on someone’s driveway was the same as leaving campaign literature and that “First Amendment-protected material cannot be termed litter.”

When the laughter finally died down a few months later, the Detroit Free Press quietly paid the fines.

This obnoxious practice of irresponsible junk delivery has less to do with freedom of speech and more to do with basic citizenship. It’s my sincere hope that responsible companies will stop these unwanted deliveries, or at least pay their fair share of the cleanup and recycling costs associated with them. I’d send a letter to their CEOs, but I don’t want to pay the postage. (Maybe I’ll just paint it on cement blocks and leave them in their driveways — wouldn’t want to clog the sewers so close to Earth Day.)

You can read more at RobertFWalsh.com, contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.

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