Who could possibly imagine wanting spam? Well, I just read that in the USA, 100 million trees are felled every year for junk mail. 28 billion gallons of water used to process the paper. And 350 million dollars spent to throw it out. That doesn't include I presume the other costs, including postage and wasted time, this is just the paper part of it.
So I started musing. What if the USPS started making some new rules for bulk mail rates. In particular, that if you want to do bulk mail, you must either use a bonded mailing house, or a special service provided by the post office to which you provide your mailing list. And you MUST provide a PDF or other electronic form of your mailing, with formats for the stupid customizations that they do to mailings. This would simply be the new rule for the bulk pieces.
And then, any household or other address could say, "Give me my bulk mailings in electronic form."
Or possibly fine grain it by sender ID, so that if you want a certain set of senders to be on paper you can specify that, and all others come electronic.
Of course they don't come to your regular mailbox unless you ask. They go to a special mailbox of your choice, perhaps an extra you have or one run by the USPS. Perhaps you go to the USPS web site to see your junk mailings.
All sounds great but of course there are some hairy problems. Obviously shippers would not want to pay the full bulk postage for this, nor should they. However, it is not simply because of the fact that no paper is mailed, it's because people will probably not look at these items as much as they look at their paper junk mail. Like it or not, they spend 50 cents to a dollar for a typical paper junk mailing because they make a profit. However, do they make a profit from the people who would say "don't do it."
In Canada, houses can declare "no flyers" on their mailbox. This stops delivery of bulk flyers, but not mail with postage. It's a start.
The reason the bonded mail houses are needed is that the mailers must not get to learn who is getting PDF and who is getting paper, just how many there are of each. So they provide only that many paper pieces and pay full postage for those, and a minimal postage for the electronic ones. Not zero -- it is the zero cost that enables spam, after all. With a few cents of cost you still think about the cost of what you are mailing. There is a risk some marketers would want to mail only the electronic customers, and then mail far more stuff since the cost would be a few cents vs. a dollar.
The DMA lobby would probably go nuts fighting this plan, though some of them might love it, since the electronic versions, if looked at, would save a ton of money. And eventually they would just try to get people on "permission marketing" opt-in commercial mail lists, and bypass the postal service and its costs.
So I'm probably dreaming. But it always annoys me to see people generate a big document on a computer and print it on paper for me to toss in the garbage, or at most glance at. The times I would glance, I would be happy enough to get it in electronic form. For those who really want their paper junk mail sometimes, they could offer a service where you click on the junk mail items you liked and they are sent to you on paper later.