The only things worse than junk mail are paying taxes, having a colonoscopy, and passing a kidney stone. Yes, I hate junk mail that much.
Junk email is bad enough, but at least thanks to the wonders of technology, most modern email clients are highly skilled at identifying and routing spam mail into a special spam mail folder that you can promptly nuke to the trash bin every now and then. Traditional snail-mail junk on the other hand? Not so easy.
In 1775, the American government appointed the first postmaster General. Seems pretty long ago, but over in Europe, the Royal Mail was established in 1516. You would think in the nearly 500 years that civilization has had postal service, someone would have figured out a way to route junk mail to the trash bin. Well, that never happened. So now, every day when you get home from work, you’re faced with lugging a stack full of envelopes into your house only to throw away three quarters of the pile of paper. Damn the trees.
Does it really have to be this way? Isn’t there something that a person can do to put an end to this madness? Well, every country is different, but believe it or not there are a few specific things that you actually can do to curb the flow of tree-destroying paper that makes its way to your mailbox.
Most of these solutions are focused on the direct mail marketing system in the U.S., but there are also a few solutions for folks over in Europe as well.
Services That Get Rid of Junk Mail
There aren’t a whole lot of laws out there to protect you from junk mail, but there are two that help consumers slightly. They are the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) and Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003. What these boil down to is that you as a consumer must be told if a company or organization you do business with intends to use your information for marketing purposes, and you need to be given the option to opt-out.
You’ve probably received occasional “opt-out notices” from companies like credit card companies — documents filled with legalize in miniscule print — and promptly threw them away without reading them. At least, that’s what the companies hope that you do. Because if you actually took the time to send a letter to the company telling them that you want to opt-out, they wouldn’t be allowed to sell your contact information to marketing companies.
Sounds easy enough, but when you multiply the effort of contacting companies to formally opt out times the many companies that you do business with, the task can feel pretty overwhelming. In fact, this is why most people don’t even bother doing it, and just keep tolerating their mail boxes being stuffed to the gills with garbage.
Thankfully, there are some organizations out there that legitimately help you with this process. For example, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) actually offers consumers with a free service you can sign up for, that promises to cut your junk mail by over 90%. This is because the 3600 largest direct mailing companies in the industry utilize the DMA “opt out” list in order to filter who they actually send junk mail to. Companies voluntarily do this in order to adhere to the DMA’s goal of “advancing and protecting responsible data-driven marketing”. It’s a way for these companies to maintain some semblance of responsibility.
To this end, the DMA offers DMAChoice.org, where you can sign up to stop receiving mail from companies across four categories — credit offers, catalogs, magazine offers, and other mail offers.
Best of all, the service is free, and from everything I’ve read online from people who have tried it, it definitely works. People have reported at least a 90% reduction in junk mail after signing up. The equivalent organization in the UK is the DMA.org/uk, but I could not find an equivalent opt-out service there, unfortunately.
In 2006, three brothers living in Ferndale, Michigan learned that on average a person in the United States receives about 41 pounds of junk mail every single year. That’s 41 pounds of paper that ends up in the garbage can (or turned into recycled Christmas ornaments!), and subsequently in the landfills. The three brothers founded 41pounds.org in an effort to help reduce what they considered to be a significant environmental hazard. The service that 41Pounds.org offers isn’t free — it’ll cost you $35 to sign up — but when you do sign up, they will contact all of the major direct mail companies directly, and represent you in getting your name and address removed from the mailing lists.
The $35 is a one-time fee, which is effective for every adult living at your residence. You can provide a list of specific catalogs and charities that you want 41Pounds to specifically contact for you. For direct mail companies that require a customer signature, 41Pounds will send you pre-addressed postcards that you simply have to sign and then drop in the mailbox.
Do you live in the UK and fed up that all of these services are meant for U.S. customers only? Don’t worry, you have at your disposal a service called the Mailing Preference Service, or MPS for short. This is a free service that has been in place for a long time in the UK. It’s a service that’s supported by the Royal Mail and the Information Commissioners Office as an effective way for UK consumers to stop receiving so much junk mail from the Direct Mail industry.
Unfortunately, the service doesn’t cover any other country — just the UK. If you’re a UK resident, sign up today and start saving some trees! If you’ve noticed that a company continues to send you direct marketing after you’ve specifically asked them not to, you may consider filing a complaint with The Direct Marketing Commission.
Another useful U.S. service for stopping direct mailings to your address is a service called TrustedID. Like DMA Choice, it’s a free service where you can search for the company that is actively direct-mailing you, and then select it for opt-out. TrustedID will then contact the company on your behalf and make the request for removal of your address. Better-yet, if the company doesn’t comply and continues to mail you junk mail, TrustedID will actually follow-up with the company to ensure that they honor your request.
TrustedID has one of the largest databases of direct mail companies — a whopping 8,000 name list — so the odds are pretty good that the company you want to opt out of is likely in that database.
Other Options to Stop Junk Mail
In the U.S., if you are the proud owner of a credit card, then the odds are pretty good that one of the major credit reporting agencies like Equifax, Experian or TransUnion have your name, address, and your credit history and rating on file and available for any company out there to check. Whenever you receive an pre-screened offer for a loan or credit card from a bank or credit card company, the chances are that the company already ran a check against your credit information to not only learn about your credit rating, but also to obtain your name and contact info from one of those consumer credit reporting companies.
The preferred place to go to specifically opt out of these credit reporting companies providing your information is at OptOutPrescreen.com. This opt-out service specifically targets those sort of “prescreened” offers for credit. You can either quickly opt out electronically using the online form, which will last for five years before your name is removed from the opt-out list again, or you can sign up for permanent opt-out. However, to permanently opt-out, you’ll need to print out and mail in a paper form.
If you hate email as much as I do, you might also sign up with and donate to the Private Citizen organization. This is a group that will not only send your opt-out authorization to the eight largest junk mail firms in the industry, but they’ll also send it to Congress just to let the U.S. Congress know how annoying you feel junk mail is. Private Citizen is really more of an activist/lobbying organization, so you’ll want to sign up there if you just want to take a stand against paper junk mail.
Also, if you tend to give money to a lot of charities, you may not realize until it’s too late that charities are often the worst culprits when it comes to reselling contact information to third parties. To protect yourself from this, just sign up for a service like NetworkForGood.org, which allows you to give to your favorite charity anonymously, so there’s no chance your personal contact information being sold to direct mail marketers.
The bottom line: The best way to avoid junk mail is to always remember to fill out and send in the opt-out forms with every company you do business with. If you haven’t done it to this point, you can use the services above to remedy your junk mail problem. But moving forward, remember that every company you do business with is a potential source of junk mail. Always ask for their privacy opt out forms, and fill them out. You will be very glad you did, and your mailbox will thank you for it.
Image Credit: Opt in and Out by Stuart Miles at Shutterstock