Stopping Junk Mail Is Easy, and Good for the Environment
Worried about the environment? Wondering what you can do to make a difference? Here’s a simple solution: Eliminate junk mail.
The average American receives 11 pieces of unsolicited junk mail each week, according to the Center for a New American Dream, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting responsible consumerism. Tallied up, that bulk accounts for 100 million trees lost each year. By reducing the amount of junk mail you receive each year, you personally will save two trees and prevent some 92 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released into the air.
All it takes is a few minutes of your time. Just follow these steps:
- De-list your name
Most senders of unsolicited junk mail get your name and address from one of three sources: Abacus Catalog Alliance (catalogs), Direct Marketing Association (fliers, brochures, etc.), or the credit bureaus (credit card and insurance offers), says Paul Stephens, a policy analyst with Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a consumer advocacy group. If you do nothing else, take the time to wipe your name from these lists. “That’ll get rid of most of your junk mail,” he says. Here’s how to do so:
Abacus Catalog Alliance: Signing up permanently halts the catalog mailings from association members. Email email@example.com with your full name and current address.
Direct Marketing Association: Stops direct mail marketing from association companies for five years. There is a $1 fee. Access forms here for online or mail-in submission.
OptOutPrescreen.com: This joint venture of the three credit bureaus puts a stop to prescreened credit and insurance solicitations. Sign up to halt these mailings for five years, or stop them permanently. Call 1-888-5-OPTOUT, or fill out a form.
Pick up the phone
Unfortunately, not every company sending junk mail your way belongs to one of these big three. Plus, companies with which you have a business relationship — from your credit-card issuer to that Internet retailer you ordered from once — can (and will) continue to send you mail. When you get a stray piece of junk, curb that initial impulse to throw it out, suggests Edgar Dworsky, editor of Consumer World a consumer resource web site. Instead, give the company’s toll-free number a call and ask to be removed from the mailing list. Having the actual letter or catalog on hand may make the process easier, he says. Look for a customer number on the label, which may help the reps access your records more quickly.
Mind your mail forwarding
Here’s a dirty little secret: One of the biggest generators of junk mail is the post office itself. “The post office maintains a mail forwarding database that they actually sell,” says Stephens. So once you move — and fill out the mail-forwarding form at the post office — your new address can wind up back on every junk mail and direct marketer’s list. And asking the post office not to give out your new info won’t work — providing your new address to any company that wants it significantly cuts the cost of rerouting your mail. So here’s what you do: Mark your move as temporary for six months. This way, your information won’t get passed along, says Stephens. Keep in mind this will involve more work for you: You’ll need to contact those companies with whom you do business (magazines, doctors, insurance companies and so on) to let them know individually of your new address.
Spread the word
To more effectively reduce the amount of junk mail you receive, encourage your family to follow your lead, says Nat Wood, assistant director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Joint holders on a credit-card account, for example, will continue to get prescreened credit-card offers until both have opted out of receiving them.
Maintain your privacy
Any time you give out your address — whether you’re filling out a warranty card, entering a sweepstakes or purchasing an item online — you’re signing over your information for direct mailing. Limit the number of companies you disclose your contact information to, says Dworsky, and always look for a box to opt out of allowing the company to share that personal information.
Keep at it
Once you’re off a company or group’s list, you’ll stop receiving mailings within 60 days, says Stephens. But unless your opt-out comes with a specific time frame (Direct Marketing Association, for example, requires you to renew your request every five years) it’s easy to end up back on a list. “There is no ‘legal right’ to opt out of most junk mail,” he says.