Put an End to Junk Mail
Stop the madness and save trees, clutter and precious time with these simple tactics
You’d think in this digital age the flow of junk snail mail would have slowed to a trickle. Not so. In 2013, the last year for which statistics are available, advertising mail represented 61 percent of all household mail, according to the United States Postal Service. It was the same the year before. All told, some 80 billion pieces of advertising are sent to U.S. households each year.
No wonder much of the mail we get — 44 percent of it — goes directly into the trash, unopened, according to Eddie Scher, communications director for ForestEthics, a nonprofit organization based in Bellingham, Washington. "“It remains a huge problem," says Scher.
That problem costs communities, not to mention the environment, dearly. According to the nonprofit organization Catalogue Choice, direct-marketing mail creates 10 billion pounds of solid waste each year, and communities spend more than $1 billion to collect and dispose of it.
Related: To Shred of Not to Shred?
Some catalogs are literally big offenders. Restoration Hardware's 2014 "source book," for example, weighed in at a whopping 17 pounds and 3,000 pages each. Some recipients were so angry they rounded up as many catalogs as they could and delivered them back to local RH stores.
With only a little effort, though, you can make a significant dent in the amount of junk mail you receive.
Related: 10 Ways to Avoid Scams in 2015
The fastest and easiest way to eliminate a huge chunk of junk mail is to use the Direct Marketing Association’s opt-out form available on the DMAchoice.org website. The DMA requires members to honor these requests for three years. The organization also maintains lists to stop mail being sent to someone who's passed away, as well as their dependents.
Although this will not stop all junk mail, the DMA says its members represent about 80 percent of the total volume of marketing mail in the United States. To remove your name from specific catalogs, you can use the website CatalogChoice.org.
To stop receiving pre-approved credit cards and insurance offers, go to OptOutPrescreen.com, a website maintained by the consumer credit reporting industry. To opt out for five years, make a toll-free call to 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com.To opt out permanently, visit www.optoutprescreen.com and request a Permanent Opt-Out Election form, which the organization will mail to you after you request it online. Note: You may not opt out of lists managed by the DMA through this website, so it’s important to do that separately. (Also, if you ever change your mind, you can always opt back in.)
Related: Fight Back Against Robocalls
To stop other marketers, you’ll need to send a direct request. Opting out of catalogs and pre-screened credit offers will not stop mail from alumni and professional associations, local merchants, religious associations and charities, politicians, companies you do business with and the ubiquitous mail addressed to “occupant” or “resident.”
Tired of getting those Valpak coupon packs? You can opt out here.
Keep your address to yourself
“The most effective way to remove junk mail is to go through DMA Choice,” said Paul Stephens, director of policy and advocacy for the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a nonprofit consumer education and advocacy organization. “The second most effective way is to try to limit the amount of information that’s out there. Once it is, it’s very difficult to get it back.”
Do what you can to keep your name and address from getting on mailing lists in the first place. Be aware that sweepstakes, other giveaways, contests and even product registration cards are often designed mainly to collect your information.
When you must give your name and address to any organization or company, such as a catalog company, car insurance company, credit card company or charitable organization, request that it not be shared with or sold to others. If the company or organization can't or won't comply, or if there's no way to ask or opt out, keep your address to yourself and take your business elsewhere if necessary.
Even the U.S. Postal Service is not above selling your address to data brokers when you move. According to Forbes, "If you want to forward your mail, the USPS does not offer an option to opt out of sharing the data, or even paying for the privilege of opting out." Forbes notes a loophole that may help consumers who are willing to go through the effort: "When you fill out the online form to change an address, you can indicate a temporary change that provides six months of forwarding that can then be extended for another six months. That information, unlike the changes marked as permanent, is not included in the master list sold to data brokers."
Data brokers have plenty of other ways of learning your new address, however, so the other steps listed above are likely to be more worth your time.