Kill Slightly Fewer Trees By Leaving Junk Mail Lists

Thanks to e-mail and online bill payments, mailboxes are a lot less personal than they used to be. According to WalletPop, each week, the average American receives 1.5 pieces of mail they might actually be interested in (yes, including bills), but 16 pieces of junk mail. Evidently, “OCCUPANT” is a pretty popular guy. But when unwanted solicitations are 90% of what’s in our mailboxes, why do they keep on coming? How can you make them stop?

Economic stimulus, that’s why. No, really. Direct mail is a huge revenue source for the U.S. Postal Service…and the companies that create it.

“Direct advertising mail and catalogs account for more than $702 billion in U.S. sales and 10 million jobs annually,” says Neil O’Keefe, vice president of the Direct Marketing Association, a company that represents about 80% of the credit card, home insurance and magazine subscription offers stuffed in your mail box.

If you want to be cruel and help put some of those people out of a job, the article offers some resources to start having your name removed from junk mail lists. A few places to start: the Direct Marketing Association, Opt-out Prescreen, and ADVO, Inc.

Trash or treasure? The price of junk mail [WalletPop]

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  1. wrjohnston91283 says:

    1.5 pieces of wanted mail? That must be saying that bills and insurance policies aren’t “wanted” but still aren’t “junk” mail. I’m on paperless billing for almost everything, and I get more than 6 mailings a month that I keep.

  2. The Cheat says:

    Thanks for a couple more agency websites! I had already done ADVO and that dramatically reduced my junk mail. I don’t check the mail every day and this makes it easier to not have to carry in an armload of crap that gets tossed.

  3. Chris H says:

    I love the junk mail argument, because this is where you see the business community totally abandon it’s Laissez-faire craziness and adopt old-fashioned socialism. The argue: if you give people a choice to opt-out of junk mail, it will cost jobs. Normally, when consumer preferences cause jobs to disappear, that’s considered market forces. Here, we can’t have market forces, because god forbid, we might eliminate extremely wasteful economic activity that keeps some people in jobs, at least.

    And then the argument shifts completely, it becomes, “you don’t know what you really want.” You think you don’t want junk mail, but you really do, because direct marketing does drive some purchases. This is really perverse, because in other contexts, consumer preferences are treated as godlike.

    • friday3 says:

      Actually, the argument would be, I can send what I want through the post office if I pay for it. Government intervention is allowing people to opt out.

      • Tim says:

        Umm … who founded and runs the Postal Service? Oh right, government. Who has a monopoly on all mail that isn’t urgent or a package? Government. Who decided what can and can’t be mailed? Government. Who assures that mail gets to the right places on time? Government.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        there are other precedents. a guy’s been harassing and stalking me for years has been informed that now that i’ve advised him not to contact me anymore, according to the laws of the state i live in if he sends me mail, it’s a crime. [or email, or phone calls]
        so yes, the government does have power over what people send in the mail

  4. Emperor Norton I says:

    No rational person believes that the Post Office makes money on junk mail. That’s the BS they been claiming for decades without any real proof.
    And I’m not even including the junk mail from charities which goes for absurdly low rates, I think it’s as low as 10¢ per piece.

    If we really want to end the plague of junk mail, it should be required to be First Class return postage guaranteed. That will clean up the mailing lists fast!

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      Are you high or just trolling? You can look at post office accounting online and see EXACTLY how much they make off 3rd-class mail!

      • Emperor Norton I says:

        I’m not high or trolling!
        I flat out don’t believe one word the post office says about the cost of junk mail & the so-called profits they make!
        Junk mail is a drain on the post office because eventually someone has to sort it & carry it to homes. That means extra employees & extra letter carriers in the destination PO & all of their associated costs, which aren’t accounted for in their totally phony statistics. It also doesn’t include the cost of larger than necessary post office buildings to store all that useless crap!
        When an industry like the junk mailers say they can make money with only a 2% return rate, then the cost of mailing is far too low. There isn’t any incentive to clean up mailing lists at all.

  5. SanDiegoDude says:

    FYI… The ADVO, Inc. link above is leading to a 404 error.

  6. SanDiegoDude says:

    So I check my mailbox once a week… I’d check it only once a month if I could, but unfortunately my mailbox isn’t very big and the junk mail fills it pretty badly already… I don’t want to torture my poor mailman that way.

  7. friday3 says:

    I don;t see the huge issue people have with direct mail. It is less obtrusive than television commercials or emails from consumer reports asking me to sign up again, or the ads that consumer union is running right next to this as I type. ADVO and many other companies provide bring in coupon offers which save tons of money. If it something I don’t want, it can go into the recycle bin. I actually do not want my property tax bill coming in the mail, so they can stop that anytime

  8. Tim says:

    About a year ago, I decided to call each company every time I got junk mail to opt-out. A pretty large portion of the people I talked to either didn’t know how to remove people from the list or said it couldn’t be done.

    I think that every piece of junk mail should be required to have clear, plain opt-out instructions on it, and that those instructions ought to, you know, work. Anyone with me here?

    • mommiest says:

      This is exactly how I feel. I have thought of trying what you did, but was pretty sure there would be no system in place for purging a particular “Occupant” off of a mailing list. The argument against it would be that people move, and the next resident might really want all that mail. Personally, I don’t buy it.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      I have to do that at work; I handle all the mail and part of my job is to stop catalogs, etc. We get a TON of unsolicited catalogs and free trade publications which no one has time to read. I’m sick of repeatedly calling/emailing to get someone off the list, only to have the materials reappear later with different names, spellings, etc. including those of employees who haven’t been with the company for years.

      Even more annoying are the phone calls to renew the free subscriptions. Don’t call us; we’re busy. If we don’t send back the little card, then DON’T BOTHER US.

  9. twophrasebark says:

    I have an almost junk free mailbox. It took some dedication but there are only two companies that still send me unsolicited mail (no matter how many times I ask them to stop):

    Dell
    TimeWarner Cable

    A TW rep actually told me it was their right to send me mail even if I didn’t want it, but the Supreme Court very clearly ruled otherwise almost four decades ago in Rowan, DBA American Book Service, et al. V. United States Post Offie Department et al.

  10. summerbee says:

    RedPlum is my worst mailbox offender. Every week (or more), a ton of unstapled, unbound circulars are delivered with “RedPlum” branding. I’ve opted out on their website more than three months ago & still, no decrease in the junk mail.

    And granted, if I had an actual mailbox and not just a mailslot in my front door, the whole “unstapled, unbound” thing probably wouldn’t piss me off as much. But to come home from work day after day & see dozens of glossy & disconnected pages scattered all over the doorway? Very annoying.

    Time to try again @ http://www.redplum.com.

    • CumaeanSibyl says:

      The really dumb thing about RedPlum is that I get the same circulars stuck in my daily paper. Hi, I don’t need more than one!

  11. RandomHookup says:

    I’m convinced most of those trees had it coming anyway…

  12. ribmask says:

    prescreenoptout.com sneakily tries to get you to enter your social security number, though it’s not a required field and there’s no reason that they would ever need it

  13. conscious says:

    I don’t mind junk mail. I’d rather these people have jobs if it means no more than a few lost seconds of my day sorting out the keepers from the tossers. Additionally all paper junk mail goes into the recycling bin which gives more for the waste management people to do.

    It feels like a necessary evil, yet a totally harmless one.

  14. TK says:

    If you are the type of person that absolutely hates direct mail and would never buy from a company that sent you direct mail, please have yourself removed from as many lists as possible.

    As a direct marketer (mail house) I want non buyers off the lists. It is easier for me to sell my services when the return rate is higher.

    As for those that think the Post Office doesn’t make money on direct mail, you are sadly mistaken. Direct mail is the profit center of the U.S. Postal Service. The reason why the Post Office is in financial trouble right now is the amount of direct mail being generated is way down due to the economy.

    Sure we get a discount on postal rates but in order to get that discount we do almost all the Post Office’s work for them.

    We sort, count, weigh, tray, bag, pallet, and deliver to the Post Office. Once the mail is at the Post Office all they need to do is load it on their trucks for delivery to the receiving post office.

    • HogwartsProfessor says:

      That’s all well and good, but if I ask someone to take my name or my company’s name off the list, then TAKE IT OFF. The problem is the lists being sold and resold, and there is no way to get them off completely. The people I speak to tell me they don’t know how, there is no way to do so, it may take up to sixteen weeks for the name to drop off (a seminar mailer; yes this was actually what they said), and then it never quits.

      I don’t mind getting catalogs at home; some of them I enjoy looking at, and they all seem to be targeted fairly well to my preferences. If not, I simply pitch them. But if I ask for them to go away, they need to stop. Immediately.

      • TK says:

        When you contact a retailer asking them to take your name off the list, most times they can’t.

        Here is how it works (for the most part), a retailer contacts a broker and tells them they want to do a mailing. The art gets created and the retailer and broker decide what demographic the retailer needs.

        Example: Home owners between 35-50 making $40k+ in a certain areas. The broker or mail house contacts a list company with those demographics. The list company then mines its data for that demographic. The list is created and the piece is printed and mailed.

        The retailer really has no idea who is on the list unless the list is provided by them. (past customers).

        Your best bet is to start with the associations above and request your name be removed. If the list company abides by the associations rules they will remove you. If they don’t pull “dead lead” names then their return rate will suck and the customers will stop using them.

        We want you off the list if you will never buy. It does nobody any good if the mail goes straight into the round file.

        And if people really want to stay off the lists, stop signing up for every offer, giveaway and store card that comes down the pike. That chance at a free cruise is a guarantee for more direct mail.

    • starxplor says:

      I am the person who hates junk mail companies and will never order anything from them.
      Since I know I have the self control to avoid giving them any business, I am not removing myself. I am able to cost them money in creating and mailing their junk and I am able to get paid by our city recycling program for tossing the junk in the recycling bin every week when I put it out.
      Also, this time of year, the extra newspaper like junk mail is great for stuffing in gift boxes as padding.

    • Harmless Gryphon says:

      I don’t think it’s so much the catalogs and such we mind, TK, it’s the stuff that goes with it. Marketers tend to trade and sell mailing lists – one purchase can snowball into a whole host of semi-related marketing, or worse, crap mail like shady charities or things that may cause problems. NRA mailings at work come to mind. Even doing certain things – get your amateur radio license and see what happens – can cause mail to increase.

      I have actually had a couple of mailers get downright nasty with me when I asked to be removed from their lists. One was a eBay seller that had a real store (and a thriving mailing list business.) The other was an equipment dealer that launched into a tirade of how people like me were killing his business. When I replied that I didn’t ask for his mail, and that he got my name from the FCC list of new applicants, he went away. I don’t even remember who it was, now.

      Mail, especially catalogs, can be good to have. Good reading material. But I agree with the good professor. If I ask you to stop, do it. Don’t gripe. Sending me more is only going to make me never want to deal with you.

  15. lenagainster says:

    I’d rather have a month’s worth of junk mail than one telemarketing call. At least the junk mail lets me know that the postal carrier has been by, otherwise, on most days, I’d get nothing. But those GD telemarketers! Any time of day or evening, waking me up from a nap, interrupting my dinner. Give me junk mail any day.

    • kabamm says:

      That’s why I’ve finally turned off the ringer on my landline. Now it’s for outgoing calls and DSL only. My friends and family can call or txt me on my mobile.

  16. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    now how do you get a company to fix it’s mailing lists? there’s one i’m on intentionally for coupons for dog and cat treats. but when i moved and i had them send my coupons to my new address, they started addressing them to the previous homeowner. my email address, my new address, her name.
    even the emails they send me about sales and promotions now have her name on them.
    obviously she was signed up for the same thing… but i wonder what they are doing about sending her coupons to her new address?

    • watch me boogie says:

      Contact the company (email or call) and explain that there’s an error in your mailing address. How quickly they can fix it depends on how they keep their databases and how often they update them. It can be possible to slip through the cracks by the time someone goes to update the data, too, so if the first time you ask brings no joy, let them know again.

      Remember that for most companies, the person to whom you speak on the phone or who answers your email will not actually have anything to do with the mailing lists; they’ll need to take your info and pass it on to whichever department does that sort of thing.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        i’m not sure it’s something that won’t do it again. there’s a place where you can update it online and every time i do it resets to her name again when the sample or coupon arrives.
        it doesn’t matter a whole lot to me, but i know she still has pets

  17. humphrmi says:

    I can opt out of all the direct mail deals, but how do you stop those “coupon mailers” and so forth that are just dumped on the post office, to be delivered to every address regardless?

  18. Miraluka says:

    Here’s my solution: Move at least once a year. I’ve moved 4 times in 3 years so I barely get any unsolicited mail in my mailbox because they can’t keep track of where I live! MUAHAHAA! (btw, moving this much is such a freaking pain in the…)

    • _hi_ says:

      This works to a certain degree… yes you get less junk mail addressed to you but you still get the old occupants junk mail. Now if the old occupant didn’t get any junk mail then you are golden!

  19. _hi_ says:

    I use my junk mail to start up my grill. I am now tempted to store it all in my trunk so that I will have junk in my trunk.

  20. lnocsifan says:

    In Sweden, virtually everyone’s mailbox has a little sign on it saying, in Swedish, no junk mail. It reduces it by a huge percent. Could the US post office adopt policies as intelligent as the Swedish one?

    • oldtaku says:

      Just the way you phrased that guarantees that the answer is no.

      The longer answer is that motivated mailmen who have done the people on their route a huge favor and asked them if they really wanted to remove junk mail then just recycled the junk mail for those customers directly got in big trouble when their supervisors found out. The post office knows that if you were given an easy way to opt out almost everyone but the hugely dedicated coupon clippers would opt out, which would cause their profit center to collapse. And they have to pretend to be financially self-sustaining.

      Which is a sure sign of an industry, like telemarketing, where everyone involved blathers about ‘consumer choice’ and then works really hard to make sure you don’t have any.

    • raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

      And who is the postman to guess which is junk and which is something the resident actually wants? We get tons of junk mail every day, and mixed in with the junk are some coupons and such which we actually use in my household. That and I would rather get everything addressed to our house; I get a lot of postcards and I’d hate for one to get chucked because it looks like possible spam.

  21. trixare4kids says:

    I’ve done all this, plus.. I called each credit card company and asked to be removed from every mailing list possible as well as their phone list.

    Also, http://www.catalogchoice.org/ helps with unwanted catalogs, though I usually just tear off the mailing label and call them myself.

    What IRKS me is that I finally got myself off the list for the weekly grocery ad flyers that come on Wednesdays but about every other week my mail person gives me one anyway. Grrr…

    I also printed out this “No Flyers” sign on a small sticker and put it on my mailbox. It’s stopped a good 80% of the pizza menus and local business flyers. http://www.ec.gc.ca/EnviroZine/images/Issue73/NoFlyers_l.gif

  22. H3ion says:

    If it wasn’t for junk mail, my recycle bin would be almost empty. Keep it coming you junkers.

  23. CarbonFiberFootprint says:

    “Direct advertising mail and catalogs account for more than $702 billion in U.S. sales and 10 million jobs annually,” says Neil O’Keefe

    A competition to see who can turn the most natural resources into cash?

    I guess you win, Mr. O’Keefe…

  24. QuantumRiff says:

    Gotta love Opt-Out Prescreen… i haven’t gotten any “Your pre-approved” credit card offers in the mail in about 2 years. As a side benefit, pretty much all my junk mail went away. I still get some local coupon mails weekly, but I kinda like those…

  25. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    I have no desire to see the U.S. Postal Service go out of business or have any of their employees fired (except that one guy at my Post Office that’s always a lazy jerk). But, no one wants this junk mail, and no one uses it. It’s not worth the massive tree loss and trash build up to keep this up. Junk mail should be banned. Solicited mail only.

  26. Naame says:

    Meh…I will stick with immediately tossing it all into my recycle bin. Besides, I like some of the advertisement mail I get because a lot of it is from local businesses and/or contains useful coupons.

  27. parnote says:

    I just use all my junk mail as kindling for the fireplace. Gets the logs burning, good and fast.