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The Environmental Impact Of Spam

No Spam

As if you need another reason to hate spam…

A new study reports that about 62 trillion spam messages are sent each year, giving off the same amount of CO2 as driving around the earth 1.6 million times. To break that down, one spam releases 0.3 grams of carbon dioxide, which is the equivalent of driving three feet, according to The Wall Street Journal. (Thanks to Ryan Avent at for the link.)

Spam accounts for one-third of all business and personal messages. Yowza.  I believe it.  I just added a spam counter to the right sidebar here, and look how many spam comments I’ve had to go through!  Boy they are just awful, too.  Personally polluting, time polluting, and environmentally polluting.

How To Minimize Spam

1. Filter your spam. Apparently “spam filtering saves 135 terrawatt hours of electricity a year, the equivalent of taking 13 million cars off the road,” according to The Wall Street Journal.  It is likely your email system has a decent spam filter.  Check your email preferences and make sure the spam filter is on and working at maximum capacity.  If you have your own domain or ISP, you can probably use a more robust filtering system through your service provider – just ask them.

2. Use a disposable email address for things you want to sign up for but will never need to use again. About “80% of the greenhouse gases created by spam actually comes from the process of deleting it, or by searching around for legitimate emails trapped in spam filters.”  I use an email address specifically for such purposes – my “donotspam” email address!

3. Uncheck the check boxes. When you sign up for membership to a website, listserv, or campaign, they will often have a check box – which is usually pre-checked – asking if you want to receive ads and other emails.  UNCHECK the check boxes!

4. Avoid publishing your email address anywhere on the web, unless it is disguised. There are several ways to do this.  Here, I’ve set up a “Contact” page so that the sender never knows my email.  Kills me to do that, but I learned the hard way with my last blog!  You can also put up a jpg or png image file of your email address, so that “spiders” and “trawlers” can’t automatically find your email and stick it in a database (they can’t read images).  Or you can do the simple “joe at gmail dot com” technique.  Any of the three work fairly well.

5. Google your email address. If it comes up on any site, do everything you can to remove it!  Ask the administrator – they’ll probably do it without much fuss.

6. When posting to newsgroups and listservs, be careful not to post your email address if you can help it.  Often there is a preference to remove your email address.  If you can’t remove it, use a disposable email address (see #2).

7. When forwarding emails from someone else – and particularly a group of people – make sure you remove all the old email addresses from the email. You never know where that email will end up – you could be handing a spammer 50 of your friends’ personal email addresses!

8. Ignore “delivery failures” of messages you did not send - these are probably sent by a worm, Trojan, or spammer.  Don’t reply!  (Worms are programs that can send bulk emails – they often live on your unsuspecting friends or family’s computers as a virus.)

9. Run virus scans regularly on your computer. Worm viruses can actually send spam to everyone in your address book.  Icky.  PCs are much more vulnerable to worms than Macs.  Also make sure your anti-virus software is up to date and from a reputable company.

10. Don’t reply to spam. Even if you reply in order to request removing your email address from the mailing list, you are actually confirming that your email address is valid and the spam has been successfully delivered.  Then your email address may be sold to additional spammers, being more valuable now that it has been confirmed.  Even opening the email may trigger this confirmation, so try not to open spam if you can help it.

And finally, never respond to emails that ask you to validate or confirm any of your account details of your bank, credit card, Paypal, or others. If you are not sure if a request for personal information is legitimate, contact the company directly. Don’t click on any links in the email, as they may be fake links which simply validate that you received the message and you can now be put on more spam lists.

All in all, spam is a small portion of the total climate and energy impact of humans.  But as we all are aware, every little bit helps. And since spam is such a nuisance anyway, why not take a few extra precautions to rid society of spam?

Techies, please feel free to contradict me if I’m wrong on any of this stuff!  And everyone, please let us know if you have any other tricks!

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5 comments to The Environmental Impact Of Spam

  • Phew! I thought you were going to tell me I couldn’t eat spam no more. What a relief! LOL Thanks for the info

  • #2 is a good idea! Wish I had a way to make a disposable account like that. Better get my own domain, heh. I’m really surprised lately that my school e-mail address has started getting spam. Only people from my school should have that?? What? It’s probably from signing up for my school-offered job search database, but it’s still annoying to get spam there. I’m resigned to my “main” e-mail account getting tons of spam, but it all goes to my spam folder anyway so I don’t really pay attention to it.

    Anyway, thanks for this list! Do you use a spam filter like Akismet or Bad Behavior for WordPress? It really helps! I use Bad Behavior so I don’t have to sign up for; it stops pretty much all my spambots from getting close enough to comment. Woo hoo!

  • Awesome suggestions, Melinda. Thanks for posting this!

  • Rob, yeah, neither spam is very good for you. ; )

    Stephanie, You can create a free gmail, google, or hotmail account that does essentially the same thing. My old USC account has a lot of spam as well – I swear they’ve sold my address to some spam company! Grrr. And yes, I use Akismet. Unfortunately I still have to go through them (sometimes 100+ per day!), because occasionally it catches a comment that isn’t spam. : ( I’ll check out Bad Behavior.

    Susan, you’re welcome! : )

  • James Starritt

    Hate to burst a (tiny small) bubble but disguising email addresses in images is bad for two reasons. First and formost people that are partially sighted or who rely on screen readers to read pages for them would never be able to get your email address from the image. This is an accessibility issue …

    … beyond this its quite easy to read the text from an image which is why so many images you are asked to enter now to confirm you are human by having you enter distorted groups of letters. CAPTCHA is something we are all painfully familiar with.

    If you are really concerned about recieving spam in your email sign up for a gmail account. The filtering is really good and it is very rare that a good email gets caught allowing me to simply delete old messages preventing the waist of my time and CPU cycles/energy having to search through them. They will even host your own domain’s email

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